Osh Bazaar, Bishkek’s Bustling Market

A smattering of colorful Kyrgyz sweets neatly arranged on a small stand, Osh Bazaar

photography by: Omri Westmark

Reading time:

While markets are a ubiquitous feature of almost every city around the world, it is the region of Central Asia which seems to be in a league of its own. Nestled in downtown Bishkek, Osh Bazaar is one of the city’s largest markets, and as such, boasts an exceptional plethora of food items, souvenirs, garments and wares, to name just a few. Whoever visits this ginormous marketplace is guaranteed a multi-sensual experience of fascinating sights, unique flavors, potent odors and never-ending hubbub of haggling.

As the culture of consumption increasingly gravitates towards shopping malls and online commerce, rare are the cases where a full-fledge marketplace dominates this realm. That is, unless you are talking about the Kyrgyz capital. Apparently, the city prides itself as being home to some of Central Asia’s largest markets, including a centrally located bazaar which attracts locals and tourists alike.

 

Located in the western part of Bishkek, Osh Bazaar is far more than simply a place to shop, as its nonpareil assortment of locally-produced goods provides an authentic glimpse into Kyrgyzstan’s culture and social fabric. The moment visitors enter through the crowded arched entrance, they will come across a hectic labyrinth of stalls with strong and unfamiliar scents wafting through the air.

 

Since farmers flock here from all over the country, the bazaar’s main part is unsurprisingly its ample food section. While locally-grown fruits and vegetables constitute the bulk of edibles one can find within its confines, those are far from being the bazaar’s primary offerings. In fact, this market is replete with national and regional eats to challenge a curious palate with.

 

One such delicacy is the nationally revered Kurut, a dairy snack made of dried, fermented yoghourt, whose extremely tangy flavors are hard to ignore. For those who prefer a safer option, a couple of stands throughout the market sell different types of traditional pastries while others are specialized on candied nuts and seeds. Perhaps the most enticing of all, though, are the handful of stalls where beautifully decorated flatbreads are showcased. Locally known as naan or tohax, this bread is baked in a tandoor oven and features various decorative patterns, surrounded by a golden crust.

 

Complementing the seemingly endless food section is a zone dedicated almost entirely to knickknacks and clothing. Among the dozens of stalls across this area of the bazaar, visitors can find several traditional Kyrgyz attires, made of hides, wool and felt, thus reflecting the nation’s historically nomadic lifestyle. Conspicuous by their popularity are the Kalpak, a tall hat typically worn by adult men, and Chapan, an ornate and light-colored cloak with high collar.