About the skies over Bishkek. And life on the ground.

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Bishkek’s Coffee Grounds (Coffee is Amazing)

It was one of the first things I was researching online when I decided to move to Bishkek for a year: the coffee situation in the capital city. Coffee: not to be taken lightly, though people in Kyrgyzstan prefer to take it light and sweet. My eyes are strangely conditioned to spot anything related to coffee and cafés. The mere written word that suggests a coffee connection attracts my attention, near and far:



Even in the partial sky of the skies over Bishkek, true to this blog’s name, I see the promise of coffee:


Depictions of coffee I like even more. My Bishkek favorite:


Kyrgyzstan is a tea-drinking country. Black or green, make your pick; tea is part of every meal. The most popular coffee drink: MacCoffee and Nescafe instant coffee, with the single-serve sachets available at the checkout of every food store: 3-in-1, cream and sugar included. For those who prefer to drink their coffee black and find a certain aesthetic in a plain cup of coffee: this is my favorite Bishkek coffee still life, taken at Johnny’s Pub. The sugar cube version of white cube, on a -yes, white- saucer. Not instant coffee, but instant coffee love:


I was lucky that Sierra had just opened a few months before I arrived in Bishkek in August 2012. Last summer, a second Sierra coffee shop opened at the other end of town, also on Manas. One of my first blog posts was -naturally- about Sierra. So now about the rest of Bishkek’s coffee universe. With the disclaimer that new coffee places have most likely opened since I left Bishkek last summer. Western-style coffee shops seem to be a rapidly growing market in Bishkek, popular especially among the young and affluent urbanites and expats. Like Café Nana, in the posh Bishkek Park shopping mall, which opened last spring:


Or Vanilla Sky, with its fancy glass terrace, which was also added in the spring of last year:


Sierra has opened several coffee kiosks, in front of the two Beta supermarkets and in shopping malls. Good for grabbing coffee, but for early risers with coffee cravings on the way to work -let’s say, if you teach an 8am class- no luck.


Coffee-to-go is obviously not popular in a predominantly tea-drinking country, but with the increase in coffee shops in Bishkek, it’s a practice that is also becoming more common. The downside: paper cups that are often not made for hot beverages, lids that don’t match the cups, and paper-thin napkins instead of sleeves (ouch). The upside: an endearing albeit impractical creativity. The favorite accessory for adding an artistic touch to a paper cup (or a Weizen beer glass) and a smile on the customer’s face: brightly colored twisted straws. This is the typical coffee-to-go, Bishkek-style:


The Coffee House on Manas scores with its interior decoration, especially the wall design and the cool chairs.


A fleeting thought of the Bauhaus at the Coffee House:



The delicious cakes are the highlight of the French Bakery, but the cozy place offers a table to sit down and coffee-to-go:


I found the perfect cup of coffee at At Bellagio’s Coffee&Pastry shop, right next to the restaurant. Tested and approved several times: consistently perfect.


A small, beautiful space, with matching perfect cakes. Makes for pleasant Sunday mornings or afternoons.


Chocolate pistachio cake&coffee happiness:


There is always something new and interesting to learn about coffee. Here is a Bishkek addition to the coffee fun fact sheet: a Kofenia coffee shop trivia about the curious aftereffects of a cup of coffee.


My point exactly: coffee is amazing.

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Sweet Stuff (Or: Bishkek, a Thiebaudian Fantasy)

How do I love thee, sweet Bishkek? Let me count the ways: The sumptuous cakes and tortes at Kulikowski and Vanilla Sky, the different pumpkin pies in the fall, the small mountains of dried fruits and the elaborately constructed towers of cookies at the bazaars, the cookies and candy at Magnolia and Karmen on Manas, the chak-chak, the cakes and pastries at the French Bakery on Kievskaia and at Bellagio‘s Pastry Shop on Bokonbaeva, the beautiful wrappers of the Russian candies (Alyonka forever!), the Easter cakes with the multicolored sprinkles, the popcorn, cotton candy, and candy apples from the street vendors, the German and Swiss chocolate section at Euro Gurmania. The icing on the cake: the many, many ice cream booths and stands on Bishkek’s streets. Where to start, describing the taste of deliciousness? And when to end eating? Since words are failing me, here is the visualization of Bishkek’s delicious sweetness, from the city where every day is a Wayne Thiebaud day:




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Vanilla Sky Of Bishkek

How can a blog with this name not write about Bishkek’s Vanilla Sky? You have never seen one, a vanilla sky? Me neither, before I came here. But I am not surprised. It’s not what meteorologists study. It’s not what people sing about. Come on, Kate Bush: how about “The Big Vanilla Sky”? Rethink, ELO: “Mr. Blue Vanilla Sky”? Moby, what do you do when “The Vanilla Sky is Broken”? And, Nick Drake, ever imagined a “Northern Vanilla Sky” could make you feel magic crazy? No, Bishkek’s Vanilla Sky is not about the shades of blue and the shapes of clouds. Or about the stuff that people sing about. Though maybe it should be. This particular Sky is about my favorite salad in town (what I call “no frills salad”: no creamy dressing, no croutons; just sesame oil and chives and onions. And thin slices of horseradish. Basta).

And, it’s about very good cappuccino:

And about wonderful people who work there. Who don’t make you feel ridiculous when you point to photos showing dishes (the menu is in Russian, with lots of visuals) as a way of ordering food. And who don’t make you feel silly when you practice, speaking under your breath, barely audible, your newly learned yet still imperfectly pronounced Russian words. (Yes, one tends to speak more softly in a new language.)

My kind of sky.

My kind of red, white, and blue. In Bishkek.