Before coming to Uzbekistan, it is very hard for me to imagine what kind of cuisine they have in the country. Usually, food could tell a lot of stories about a place, including the natural environment, history and especially the way how people live. For me, it is essential to know the culture of eating before getting even deeper into other aspects of a culture.
As a member of the previous USSR, Uzbekistan cuisine is greatly impacted by Russia in terms of the ingredients and the dishes. For example, people usually eat their meals with bread, and Manty(lamb-filled dumplings) & dill-based dishes are no strangers to Uzbekistan dining table. But on the other side, Uzbekistan also keeps some of the most traditional Central/West Asian dishes such as Plov. In addition, due to the proximity to Europe, Uzbekistan menu is also impacted by the European dining culture, which can be seen from the menu (from soup, appetizer, main dish to dessert).
As for the ingredients, Uzbekistan people mostly consume beef, lamb and chicken due to the religion. But to my surprise, I did see some pork dishes on the restaurant menu. That is probably because of the fact that most Uzbekistan are only “believers” who don’t strictly follow the Islamic rules. In terms of the choice of vegetables, I would say that is is a little bit boring (Actually Kyrgyzstan is the same) since it’s simply a rotation among tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants and cabbages. This may be attributed to the lack of clean water to wash the leafy vegetables properly, or to the continental climate, or simply to the preference of high-calorie vegetables of the local people.
I will share some of the dishes that I tried in Uzbekistan and hope that would be a great feast for you:
Plov is surely the national dish in Uzbekistan. Most mans in every household are proud of making their own fantastic version of Plov. When it comes to festivals, cooking a big pot of plov to share with neighbors is a important event. To show the respect of this dish, there is even on Central Asia Plov Center in the captial Tashkent!
The way of making Plov is actually quite similar to that of Paella, just that the ingredients and flavors are replaced by Central Asian ones. First of all, you have to fry beef or lamb (with bone) with onion in a big pot. After that, you should add in carrots, raisins and season the pot with some salt and cumin. Finally, rice is added into the pot and covered with water to be slowly steamed until it’s done.
In fact, from Central Asia, South Asia, Iran to Turkey, all the countries have something similar to Plov, but with different names. Some call it Pilaf while Uzbekistan call it Plov. As for the superiority of taste, I think it’s up to you.
Russian Manty (Lamb-filled dumplings)
It looks like Taiwanese Xiao Long Bao right? But the reality is that Manty is not only twice bigger in size, its fillings are primarily lamb and chopped onion, and it usually goes with yogurt sauce. For the first time, I quite like the special taste, but it is a bit greasy and meaty that I won’t eat it for a second time in a short period of time.
I guess this must have something to do with the noodle culture in North-Western China. The Lagman in Uzbekistan is usually with the beef broth, and added with local vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes and bell peppers. Thick and chewy noodle is the highlight of the dish. As long as you know this dish, I promise that you won’t get starved in Central Asia. On a side note, there are both soupy or dry Lagman, just like the same as we have in Taiwan!
This Somsa makes me think of the curry puff in India and Singapore. Other than Somsa with meat, there is also vegetarian version which is filled with pumpkin. We do like the pumpkin version here as we already had too much meat in Uzbekistan!
This is simply barbecue! Most of the barbecue you will find in Uzbekistan is beef. Some restaurant will grill the whole piece of meat, but some use minced meat balls instead. Both styles have their own fans but the same thing is that you will always find pickled onion together with Shashlik as it makes the meat taste less greasier.
After seeing all these, do you feel hungry and wanna try them out yourselves?