Today on the blog I have the gorgeous Namrata Wakhloo as my guest blogger. She was born and raised in Srinagar, Kashmir in a Kashmiri Pandit family. She did her schooling from Presentation Convent, Srinagar. Having pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering and a Master’s in Management, from Pune, Namrata works as Head of Corporate Social Responsibility with a Fashion Retail organization in Gurgaon, India. She is married with two children and lives in Delhi. Her hobbies and interests include reading, travelling and photography.
Namrata is taking us through a fabulous palate tickling gourmet experience in Uzbekistan. All the pictures here are taken by her and the commentary shared is from her notes from this trip with some additions from me.
Uzbekistan literally means “The home of the free”. It is a country in Central Asia and once used to be a part of Soviet Union. Its surrounded on all sides by five land locked countries, making it doubly landlocked.
Tashkent is the largest city in Uzbekistan and is also the capital. The local currency is called Som ( converted by current exchange rate) and 1 Som = 10,000+ USD. The official language here is Uzbek which is a Turkic language and Russian is the other most commonly spoken language here.
Citizens of not every country need a visa to travel to Uzbekistan. Plus, for a few other countries they have introduced e-visa or visa-on-arrival.
The Uzbek cuisine draws heavily from the traditional food of the Turkic countries across Central Asia, especially Turkey. One will note additional influence of foods from Nepal and China in the variety of noodles and dumplings served here. The food of Uzbekistan can be called meat rich but there are some amazing salad options that would blow that claim away.
Without much ado, lets begin savoring this mind boggling cuisine that would seem familiar to the Indian palate in many ways.
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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 Lepeyoshka or Patyr 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. Designer because of the intricate designs they like to carve on the bread – various geometric patterns and even initials of their name! In fact you will finds the local shops selling an array of bread stamps- a wooden handle with metal pins set in a pattern. Perhaps you could get one as a souvenir from the trip!
¤ 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 folklore! ¤
Plov or Pilaf or Palov 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.
Plov is traditionally cooked by men and in a huge metal cauldron (kazans) over open fire in staggeringly copious quantity.
All Samosa lovers would be glad to hear this. The dish came to India from Uzbekistan, where it is called Samsa/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.
These crispy flaking offerings maybe baked or fried, depending on where you are being served it.
This is a hearty noodle and meat broth kind of a dish where the noodles are hand pulled into a great chewy texture. A mix of veggies like onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic and potatoes goes into making of the stew along with some kind of meat.
Manti / Qasqoni is a stuffed dumpling which is steamed and served with a yoghurt based dip. Most often the stuffing comprises of meat though you might get a potato/pumpkin one too sometimes.
Chuchvara are a slightly smaller version of the manti which are often served dipped in a soup, very like a wonton soup.
These are also served fried and that’s called Qouvurma Chuchvara.
Shashlyk is simply put a grilled skewer of meat or vegetables. Its one of the most commonly eaten dishes in Uzbekistan and you will find plenty of food stalls offering this. Its commonly served with some pickled vegetables on the side.
Shorva or Shurpa is a kind of soup made out of a fatty meat along with loads of vegetables which are added in chunks to the broth. Its mildly flavored with dill and parsely.
Dolma is kind of a stuffed dish, very common to Greece, Central Asia and the Middle East. Vegetables like eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, onion, zucchini, etc are stuffed with filling made out of meats, cheese and rice primarily. These are grilled and cooked in a broth too.
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!
Navat is made from condensed sugar syrup or grape juice with the addition of special spices. The boiling hot sugar liquid is poured out into larger vessels with threads stretching out. The sugar crystal form on top of these strands. Its essentially flavored rock candy.
Halva is a sweet prepared out of whole wheat flour, sugar and nuts which are roasted and cooked to form a paste like consistency. There are several variations to this with the addition of combination of nuts, seeds, dried fruits ,etc.
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 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.
Coffee or Kaffe is also a popular drink in Uzbekistan and often had with a meal or just on its own with some sweet assortments.
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.
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.
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 / Anar, 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. These were the best pomegranates that I would have ever had, juicy and blood red seeds!
Well I hope after this gastronomical feast, you are charged up to head out to Uzbekistan to eat to your heart’s desire. By no ways is this an exhaustive list and there will be many more gourmet surprises in store for you in Uzbekistan.
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A trained Interior designer who loves to travel, photograph and write, I have done some boutique stays in limited budgets and some in extravagant ones too. My forte is in using locally sourced/ made products which would provide support to the local community. I am also an advocate of using sustainable practices in housekeeping, laundry,etc which lessens the use of harmful chemicals. The water used for such chores is clean enough to be fed into the garden directly.
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