Welcome to Uzbekistan, the communist dream of the 1970s: clean, lush, and heavily policed. It’s a city where your car choices are pretty much limited to a Chevy or Hyundai. Usually a white one.
The supermarkets are few, because Uzbeks prefer to bargain for their meals. And in the supermarkets you do find, you’ll see row upon row of juice, imitation coke, fresh watermelon, and one brand of coffee: Nescafé.
While Uzbekistan may be quite different from Kyrgyzstan–topographically and, crucially, politically, there were more cultural and food similarities than I had expected. Like Kyrgyz food, you should expect Uzbek food to have a lot of bread. And meat. Our guide claimed to eat two kilos of meat a day. And, as in Russia, cabbage, potatoes and tomatoes round out the daily vegetables.
But that’s not to paint an overly bleak portrait of Uzbek cooking. There’s lots of abundance to be found–especially, in my opinion, in the bready things.
Beshbarmak: Flat wheat noodles topped with mutton and vegetables. More of a Kazakh dish, but still all over the place in Uzbekistan.
Chak Chak: A tasty dessert. Essentially, won ton noodles stuck together with honey. Also, a fun name to say!
Chebureki: Fried pastries filled with meat. Flatter and slightly greasier than samsa (below).
Kebabs: A worldwide favourite. Roasted meat on giant skewers/sword-type things. The most common varieties are lamb and beef. You can also get veggie versions, but keep in mind that they will be incredibly boring.
Laghman: Noodles covered in a meat sauce. The noodles are thinner (but chewier) than the noodles used in beshbarmak.
Non: Like the lepeshka of Kyrgyzstan, non is delicious flatbread, best served straight out of the oven.
Plov: Also known as pilaf, plov is a rice dish mixed with vegetables and sometimes beef, horsemeat or quail eggs. All the vegetarian versions I had were excellent. (Below)
Samsa: Triangular pastries, usually filled with meat and onions
Smoked Fish: In Uzbekistan, the fish are huge, gutted and smoked, usually to serve alongside beer. You can pick these up at every roadside stop between the cities. (Above)
Vodka: You can even try the ‘Night in Nukus’ vodka if you dare. I, sadly, was not brave enough.
Watermelon: Now in season, in Kyrgyzstan too. Super refreshing, especially after all that meat.
Now, a couple of words about etiquette: like the Kyrgyz, traditional Uzbeks will sit cross legged around short-legged tables instead of sitting on chairs. Light sweets usually begin the meal, and if it’s a special occasion the meal might consist of soup, salads and a main, in addition to the bread and sweets that will always be available. And don’t forget to give a toast! They’ll be expected before every shot of vodka…