|A Culinary Journey through Uzbekistan|
If the mention of Uzbekistan doesn’t conjure up any mental images for you, perhaps the name of Bukhara with its bazaars and maze of alleys will transport you to the land of A Thousand and One Nights. Another pervasive presence in our history books is Samarkand, “the precious pearl of the world,” which existed even during the time of Alexander the Great, and which Timur (Tamerlane) chose as his capital in 1370 CE.
While there are no gastronomic revelations to be had in Uzbekistan, you’ll find classic meals of mutton or chicken served with rice. In Tashkent, many small restaurants in every price range allow you to experience the daily life of Uzbeks.
The national dish is plov, made with mutton and rice and flavored with onions, carrots and spices (particularly cumin). Plov made with chicken and dried fruit is also very popular. There are many regional and seasonal variations found throughout the countries of Central Asia.
Other popular local specialties include shashlik or kebabs (little skewers of mutton, beef, chicken or chicken livers, often accompanied by fresh onion), and mantys, large steamed dumplings. Also try the meat and vegetable soup known as shorpa and sample samsas, meat or vegetable fritters akin to Indian samosas.
You must also try lipioshka, the large unleavened flatbread which is sold on street corners and which often serves as a complete meal. Observe Uzbeks’ customs when it comes to this bread, especially if you happen to be lingering in a square or park around lunch time. A lipioshka is never laid upside down, much less on the ground, even if wrapped in a bag.
When it comes to fruit, grapes, apricots and pomegranates are dried at the end of the season. You’ll also find mountains of watermelons and honeydew melons in miniature versions.
At any time of day you can enjoy some tea (the national drink), either black or green, while seated in the shade in a tchaikhana or tea house. This is where older Uzbeks gather to chat over a pot of scalding tea. You might also try the sweet white wines or mellow reds… or even the sparkling “shampanski.” Kefir is a yogurt drink usually served for breakfast. Vodka, beer and brandy are sold everywhere.
In hotels the cooking shows a strong Russian influence: borsch (beet soup), well-done steak or strogans, the local adaptation of Beef Stroganoff. An import from Ukraine, pirmeni are small ravioli filled with meat or vegetables, often served in vegetable soup.
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