Buffet in Almaty
As I finished my morning run down Kabanbai Batyr Street on fumes, I passed a noticeably increased police presence near the gun-toting sports stores and the entrance to my hotel, the Rixos Almaty. Neighboring Uzbekistan’s long-time president, Islam Karimov, had officially, and unexpectedly, been declared dead, and any sort of regional disruption was met with order-keeping precautions. Kazakhstan had a few terror incidents this summer, so the security beef-up was expected, even en route to the opulent Rixos Almaty breakfast.
The morning meal in Almaty varies according to where you eat it, and with whom, but the Rixos puts meat, dairy, and grain-laden Kazakh food front and center, representing Turkish, Russian, and Iranian influences. (It may be worth taking a day off from vegetarianism to sample the full range.) I snagged an outside table next to one of Almaty’s gorgeous parks and marched up to the spread, stomach rumbling.
Plate One: Horse meat, lamb-filled samsas, and tvorog cheese.
Bowl One: Sliced apples, plums, grapefruit, oranges, and peaches.
Cup One: Heavy black tea.
I sat down and dug into round one of breakfast, while the TV blared news about Karimov’s funeral in his hometown of Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The opening salvo was a tour of the region’s traditional nomadic fare, high-energy foods that could be easily transported. Cooked horse tastes like power, and it is delicious. Samsas are flaky, meat-filled pastries that range in size from one-biters to boxer’s fist. Tvorog is originally Russian but has become a Kazakh staple. It’s like cottage cheese, but more solid, and saltier. The tea is necessary to wash it all down. The fruit bowl capped it off. I was particularly excited about the apples, since they’re my favorite fruit, and originated in Central Asia. (‘Almaty’ is derived from the Kazakh word for apple.) I finished the plate and went for round two as the table chatter around me sent the name Karimov echoing in all directions, in multiple languages.
Plate Two: Bulgur wheat, smoked salmon, and black bread.
Bowl Two: Almonds, cashews, raisins, apricots, and honeycomb straight from the hive.
Cup Two: Apple juice.
I’m a sucker for heavy grain, so I covered my plate in bulgur wheat, with smoked salmon layered on top. I would struggle to find another combination that tugs at my heartstrings so thoroughly. The bowl of dried fruit and nuts complemented the heavy flavors and texture well, and honeycomb slathered on black bread, washed down with apple juice, made a perfect breakfast dessert. I was stuffed. Hearty and opulent was the perfect start to a day in this rising city, wedged between the mountains and the steppes, with the death of a regional strongman looming large.