Sit down to dinner, Uzbek style

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Rooftop dining KhivaUzbekistan does not top most foodies’ bucket list of places to go, but Uzbek cuisine satisfies in unexpected ways:  lots of fresh ingredients; more veggies than I’d anticipated; slow-food preparation methods; mostly family-style service; and plenty of time for camaraderie around the table.

My travel companions and I were welcomed to the Uzbek table three times a day, often to a spread laid on for honored guests. We had lunches and dinners in traditional home settings, and in local restaurants, and on rooftops with fabulous views.

Here is the order of business for the meals we experienced:

Wash basin at a Tashkent restaurant>>>> Wash up! Basins are just outside the main dining areas in all eating establishments.

Uzbek table set for luncheon>>>> Open with something sweet: sugared nuts, tiny plates of dried fruit, small candies. It’s not every day you sample homemade mulberry jam as a starter, but why not?

Uzbek non>>>> Break scrumptious bread with your table-mates, and pour cups of green and black tea according to personal tastes. Non is an integral part of Uzbek cuisine.

Cucumber and tomato salad, Khiva>>>> Share salads made of fresh and cooked ingredients. For vegetable lovers, the prevalence of salad in Central Asia is a godsend. Cucumber and tomato or tomato and onion salads are ubiquitous, but there are myriad other seasonal options, as well.

Appetizers come to the table along with salads. Good ones to sample are naryn, a cold noodle salad with minced, spicy horse meat; and deep-fried cauliflower, inexplicably labeled “cabbage” in at least two restaurants I visited. Egg-battered vegetables benefit from a dollop of tangy sour cream with fresh herbs.

Shurpa warming over coals, Tashkent>>>> Savor a soup, such as this hearty lamb shurpa, warming over coals in single-serving crocks at Tashkent’s Milli Taom. The open-air restaurant is popular with locals and a great place for orientation to Uzbek cuisine. Other great soups in Uzbek cuisine are pumpkin puree, and broth loaded with dill and chunks of meat or delicate dumplings, called pelmeni.

Plov topped with a quail egg, Tashkent>>>> Chow down on main courses of plov, the national dish, a rice-and-meat staple with cult status; or go for meat-and-veg-filled steamed dumplings, called manty.

Mixed boiled-meat platter, TashkentOther options include a mixed boil-up of meats, stuffed peppers, and cabbage rolls, and platters of roast beef with cabbage, carrots and potatoes.

>>>> Wash everything down with more tea, bottled water, local beer or vodka.

>>>> Skip the dessert. Most of the cakes I sampled were not on a par with the rest of the meal and goodness knows, by the end of these meals, there’s really no room for another course!

Uzbek ladies' luncheon, with plov>>>> Make the most of the companionship around you. These ladies were sharing platters of plov in a food tent at Asrlar Sadosi, the  annual Festival of Traditional Culture, held this year in the Kyzylkum desert of Karakalpakstan. Their simple meal—one main course, bread and tea, no forks—was clearly a festive occasion among friends.

The food, good as it can be, is just one component of Uzbek cuisine. The eagerness of our hosts to introduce their native foods, coupled with large doses of laughter around our table at mealtimes made for some unforgettable memories, not to mention enjoyable sharing of new foods and flavors.

 

 

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you! My happy, feasting fork has landed on many plates around the world, so stay tuned for more. Also try the blog’s search feature to find descriptions of my food-loving, cultural experiences elsewhere.

  2. Oh my, you just got my tastebuds in an uproar. I couldn’t get enough of Uzbek food in Russia (much tastier and more fragrant than native Russian food, I’d say). Looks even more fun to eat it over there! And what an incredible view of Khiva from that restaurant terrace!

    • I would agree (my favorite meal in Moscow was actually Georgian!). If you enjoy Uzbek food, you should definitely make a pilgrimage to the source, and you will find plenty to love about all the destinations along Uzbekistan’s bits of the Silk Road. That great view of Khiva is from the roof of a small family-owned hotel…enjoyed with a feast, musicians and dancing after the sun went down.

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