Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Trying to find a place to eat breakfast

The mother of one of my good friends from high school recently took a job in Semey, a medium-sized town in eastern Kazakhstan. Her winter break coincided with mine, and she decided that she wanted to visit Astana, and we planned it so that she arrived a day after Sophia and I returned.

She took the bus from Semey, a 12-hour overnight ride, an incredibly bumpy ride, with stops along the way to use incredibly stinky outhouses. We met her at the bus station at 6:30 in the morning.

"So," she said, "let me treat you to breakfast!"

I racked my brain for places that are open for breakfast in Astana. Since I usually am only up at the time when I have to go to work, I really don't know about what is open in Astana at this time. I know that the mini-marts don't open until 8 am, and that the malls are pretty deserted until after noon.

So first we went back to my apartment, and I googled two places that I'd heard did brunch. The Lonely Planet web site listed one place, Samovar on Kennesary Street, as being open 24 hours, and I'd heard from others that this restaurant serves a yummy brunch.

So at 8 am, we went to take a cab to go to Samovar.

The driver stopped in front of the restaurant, obviously confused. It's still dark in Astana at 8 am, and the street was nearly pitch-black--and so was the restaurant. Obviously not open!!

In my broken Russian, I managed to convey that we wanted to eat breakfast, did he know of any places that were open?

Remember that although there are official taxis in Astana, most people just take "gypsy" cabs, which is pretty similar to hitch-hiking in the US, except that it's incredibly common here, and that you pay the driver. So this poor guy was now stuck with 3 Americans in his car with nowhere to go! He called a friend and drove us to another restaurant--the lights were on, cars were parked outside of it, there were even a few people around. We thanked him profusely, tipped him generously, and got out.

The restaurant was closed.

Now we were stuck, still in the dark, still wanting breakfast, and thankfully the weather was kind. It was only about -10º Celsius (14º F), which is pretty mild for Astana in January before sunrise.

My friend then asked about hotels, and I realized that that's where we should have looked in the first place. Fancy hotels catering to foreigners should offer breakfast! We were near the King Hotel, a fancy hotel (rooms around $200 a night), so we walked there. Inside we asked if they had breakfast, and they did! Yay!

Breakfast was somewhat similar to a continental breakfast in an American hotel--dried fruits, nuts, cereal, bread and a toaster, rolls, tea and coffee. As well as some meat and vegetables. My friend asked for eggs--no one spoke enough English to understand, and I must have slaughtered the pronunciation of the Russian word for eggs, because no one understood me either. Finally, someone translated and we got sunny-side-up eggs, with the yolk practically uncooked. We also got 3 raw eggs, which we mistook for hard-boiled until my friend cracked one.

The bill came to 7200 Tenge--$48. Pretty steep for not such a great breakfast.

Oh well. Next time I want breakfast in Astana, I'll either cook it myself or wait until 10 am. I'm sure the brunch places open by then.

**Update: Today my Kazakh friend and I, along with our daughters, went to eat lunch at an Italian café that we discovered last year. The sign on the door said that it opens at 8 am; the menu included lunch--pancakes, omelettes, danishes, and everything under 1000 Tenge, so not too pricey (not too cheap, either). So now I know where to go next time I want breakfast at 8 in the morning!

The place is called Rafé; it has 2 locations in Astana; we were at the location near Congress Hall on Kenessary Street. 16 Bukeykhana Street.

(I also highly recommend Rafé for its desserts!)

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