Postcard from... Astana


Among the futuristic structures that sprout from the billiard table land of Astana, Kazakhstan’s ready-made capital, stands Norman Foster’s glass and steel Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center – otherwise known as the world’s largest tent.

Starting from the tapered 500ft summit, the so-called Royal Marquee houses an artificial beach and heated pool – a welcome refuge for the Astana bourgeoisie when the winter temperature outside plummets to minus-40C. On lower floors, among plastic dinosaurs and artificial palms, shoppers can stock up on the upmarket brands that are magnets for the  planet’s new rich. It’s a mall you could find anywhere – from Shanghai to Albuquerque.

Head to the basement, however, for a more Kazakh experience. The supermarket there is geared overwhelmingly to local tastes. Horsemeat sausage leads the limited butchery range, while shelves of local vodka, brandy and other assorted hooch extend as far as the eye can see. Reflecting a local cuisine in which crisps appear to be classed as a vegetable, pickles predominate. One resident expat recently got excited when he spotted a solitary avocado pear. But he baulked at a price tag that worked out at the equivalent of £12.