FOOD OF UZBEKISTAN
First things first. Both vegetarians and non-vegetarians can happily eat good food in Uzbekistan with out having to carry their tiffins from India.Or without starving themselves!
Uzbeks drink a lot of tea. Whenever I would go out to restaurants, I would see locals eating their meal along with or immediately followed by a pot of tea.Mostly green tea. No milk. The ceramic crockery its served in, looks very pretty in hues of white and blue, the most popular combination.
The places I stayed in also would serve tea very often starting from the time I arrived and through the day. Tea in the morning used to be served with an assortment of nuts and fruits.
Fruits were available in plenty at very reasonable rates — pomegranates, grapes and melons being the most popular in the season that I travelled in, which was autumn. Eaten as whole or in salads, fruits formed a part of most meals. Grape and apricot compote was served at every breakfast. You could live on them.
Interesting to note that, almost every house has a grapevine in its front yard. Probably, to protect them from harsh sun rays and render a close-to-nature look to the house.
We all would have heard how Babur, when he moved from Samarkand to India, missed the melons of his home country which was Uzbekistan. They are big and oblong in shape but very sweet to taste.
I first saw big and crimson red pomegranates being sold in heaps in Chorsu Bazaar and thereafter in every city of Uzbekistan that I visited. Anor, as it is locally called, could be found everywhere — either as a whole fruit sold in the markets or in the form of juice in restaurants or as an embroidery on stoles or painted on ceramic pottery and papier machie. It qualifies as a national symbol for the country, if it already is not.
These were the best pomegranates that I would have ever had, juicy and blood red seeds!
Bread is sacred. And bread is sold in plenty. I don’t think people bake at home or in the restaurants. They seem to buy from the dozens of vendors selling oven-fresh breads every morning, evening and through the day. I remember, how one evening, I saw the women in Samarkand get loads of hot loaves wrapped in big sheets of cloth to be sold along the market pavement. In Tashkent, I saw rows of wheel-barrow like carts selling only bread.
Bread is called Non or Lepeshka in the local language. Its baked in a big clay oven called Tondur. You would find vendors selling “designer” breads in different shapes and sizes. A decent sized fluffy round Non cost around 15000 Soms. Designer because of the different designs they like to have carved on the bread — various geometric patterns and also initials of their name!
A loaf of bread should ideally never be cut by a knife but by hand and then eaten. Also, it should not be placed upside down. Both seem to bring bad luck, as per the folkore!
Plov is the national obsession of Uzbekistan! No menu would be minus this ubiquitous dish. I first tasted Plov in Tashkent on day one of my trip and thereafter it was a part of at least one of my daily meals. It has rice,meat,chickpeas, onions, raisins and grated carrots cooked in vegetable oil so the dish is a bit greasy but tastes super delish!
During the travel, while talking to waiters and cooks, I learnt a difference between the Plov eaten in different cities — while the Plov in Tashkent, Samarkand and Khiva uses yellow carrots, the one in Bukhara has red!In all the cases, its topped by a small boiled egg. A pigeon egg, I guess.
When I was in Tashkent, the host there had highly recommended Djiz in Bukhara. Djiz is a meat dish which mostly uses beef but can be lamb too. I found it on the menu of all good restaurants in Bukhara however all were available with beef so I had to skip tasting it!
All Samosa lovers would be glad to hear this. The dish came to India from Uzbekistan, where it is called Somsa. The Somsa here is made in different shapes, not necessarily triangular only. The filling can be of vegetables or meat. Although, the process of making Somsa is the same as that as of the Samosa in India, the texture and taste of the filling varies.
Uzbeks are big meat eaters. They consume a lot of beef and of course lamb and chicken too. Shashlik is very popular. Also, on every menu you would find Manti (dumplings) and Lagman noodles.
Although it was autumn when I was there, the days were quite hot. A fruity, cold beverage called Ichimlik was being sold in the markets. Nothing to beat the refreshing drink to rejuvenate you. However, saw it only in Tashkent.
Fresh salads, especially the Greek, are sold everywhere as a healthy accompaniment.
Last but not the least, I would like to talk about dry fruits, variety of seeds and sweetmeats that the local bazaars are full of. People consume them as snacks at any time of the day.
Sweets are an integral part of Uzbek food. The most famous ones are Khalva and Navat. Khalva is prepared from wheat flour, sugar and nuts. Navat is the boiled crystalline grape sugar with spices.
A very talkative taxi driver one day, while taking me to a Sufi Shrine,stopped a while, to buy a very popular snack for me to taste. Since he spoke only Uzbek, I figured on my own what they were made of! Round balls of condensed sour milk seasoned with pepper and salt. They are called Kurt locally, however we may want to refer to them as Uzbek cheese balls!
So, overall I give a big thumbs up to the food of Uzbekistan!
A decent meal (without alcohol) for one would not be more than $5. So, even a very high-end restaurant is unlikely to burn a hole in your wallet, when it comes to eating good food there.