After gaining some experience with life in Almaty, the U.S. Embassy issued a guide for Americans entitled “Welcome to Kazakhstan”. It contains a section on restaurants, offering this guidance:
Almaty has a varied selection of pre- and post- perestroyka Kazakh- and Russian-style restaurants plus a smattering of eating places with cuisine from such exotic places as Korea and Arizona.
While the variety is increasing, eating out in Almaty can still be a trying experience.
First, forget menus. They don’t bear any relation to what’s really available. It’s better to ask what the restaurant is serving. Usually, that will be a first course of “zakusky” (appetizers) or salad, a second course of soup, and a third course of meat or chicken with rice and vegetables. You can request just a salad and soup but your waitress will smile more if you order more.
Second, forget about service. Unlike in Western restaurants, waiters and waitresses are not used to pandering for tips. Also, the concept of genuine fast good has not reach Kazakhstan. Occasionally you will receive good service. When it happens, some embassy staff suggest that a ten to fifteen percent tip is appropriate. Others point out that waiters and waitresses are in the habit of overcharging and adding tips to their bills anyway. You’ll have to decide in each case.
Third, you cannot count on a restaurant being open when you want to eat, even though they all have posted hours. Several times embassy personnel have arrived at their favorite restaurant only to find it closed for a private banquet, or simply closed for no reason at all. (Many visitors stock their room refrigerators with vegetables, fruit, bread, drinks, and other food for emergencies.)
Eating out here can be entertaining, but it requires patience and cross-cultural sensitivity. If you decide to venture out, here are some suggestions: [followed by perceptive comments on the eight following pages].
Like ‘Welcome to Almaty’, my book – West Meets East in Kazakhstan – makes for a great read. Interesting stories, travel, insights into human character, various settings, colorful descriptions, and lots more.
Book Sales: I am still helping with the marketing of my book, West Meets East in Kazakhstan. It’s about life in and around Almaty in the 1990s from the perspective of an American expatriate. You will enjoy it! The book is available online in softcover or e-book format from AuthorHouse (the publisher), or Amazon or Barnes & Noble.