The origin of this post lies in a series of
arguments discussions I had with my mother about vegetarian food in Uzbekistan before I left for my trip in September 2015.
Amma was convinced that I would not get any vegetarian food or have too few options in Uzbekistan and was determined that I carry some food with me. From the research I had done, I knew that vegetarian food was available. Therefore, I was equally determined not to carry any food with me from India. This back and forth continued for days till we arrived at a compromise: I would take some snacky items with me. As a bonus, I offered to send pictures of every meal I had in Uzbekistan to Amma at the end of each day.
The ‘compromise’ part was easy — two packets of a bhel mix and one of chaklis in my bag and I was done. The ‘bonus’ was more difficult. I had no idea what I had gotten into when I promised Amma those daily food updates. The reason? I don’t instinctively reach for my camera when food is placed before me; I reach for the food ! It was tough, not to mention a pain, to remember to take photographs initially. But slowly, I got the hang of photographing food before I started eating, instead of remembering halfway through the meal, or sometimes not at all. 😛
But somehow, I managed to not only get some halfway decent pictures of the food I ate, but also other food-related things like markets and cafes (when I remembered to, that is) ! Presenting my Uzbekistan food diary.
What I ate: Though the food scene in Uzbekistan is meat heavy, vegetarian options are available, and the hotel/restaurant/café I ate in was always happy to oblige and make something vegetarian for me. Even though the choices were limited, I never feel like I was eating the same thing every day. From a simple pumpkin and potato soup to a complex, dill-flavoured noodles to steamed vegetable dumplings called mantees to stir fried vegetables to salads to bread… I had them all and enjoyed eating them. The only exception was in Tashkent, where I had the worst meal in Uzbekistan and also had a tough time finding local vegetarian fare. It was pizza to the rescue in Tashkent.
Presenting a selection of some of the food I had in Uzbekistan. Clicking on any of the photographs below will open a slide show. You can then use the left or right arrow keys to navigate through them and their accompanying captions.
Bread: The importance of bread as part of every meal in Uzbekistan cannot be emphasised enough or the variety available. During the trip, I became aware of the subtle rivalry existing between cities regarding the superiority of ‘their’ bread. My palate is not so refined that I could differentiate one bread from another — all I could figure out was whether it was fresh or not.
Two memories revolving around bread stand out from the trip. The first involves following the aroma of freshly baked/baking bread in Bukhara one evening and standing outside the bakery window and inhaling lungfuls of the fragrance. The second involves watching my co-passengers board the business class of the bullet train from Samarqand to Tashkent with bags full of bread purchased from the local market.
Presenting a small selection of some bread from Uzbekistan. Clicking on any of the photographs below will open a slide show. You can then use the left or right arrow keys to navigate through them and their accompanying captions.
Fruits and Vegetables: I was very happy to see that seasonal fruits and vegetables rule in Uzbekistan. I was there in September and got to eat a lot of, as well as a variety of, watermelons and grapes, along with some figs and mountain berries. If I had visited in March, I would have got to eat apricots, mulberries, peaches and figs. I was surprised to find that watermelons and grapes were perhaps the cheapest of the fruits, and bananas the most expensive, and therefore the most coveted too. After having tasted the watermelons in Uzbekistan, I can now understand and appreciate the lament of the Mughal Emperor Babar over the poor quality of Indian melons. Trust me on this, the Uzbekistan melons are the far better and the sweetest.
The vegetables were a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar — green radish, golden turnips, and yellow carrots. Some of the vegetables and fruits were XXL in size — cauliflowers the size of footballs and watermelons the size of two footballs! The tomatoes I saw at the Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent were almost the size of my palm.
Presenting a selection of some of the vegetables and fruits I had in Uzbekistan. Clicking on any of the photographs below will open a slide show. You can then use the left or right arrow keys to navigate through them and their accompanying captions.
The markets: I loved the markets in Uzbekistan. They were unbelievably clean and organised. Every type of produce and product had its place in the markets I visited. Be it dry fruits or vegetables or fruits or meat and poultry products or salads (yes, one gets ready made salads in the markets) — all have a designated place.
I was quite happy to see the familiar kanda batata (onion and potato) stalls, as well as those which sold herbs and lemons and chillies, just like in India. But what amazed me the most was how meat section had no odour at all. I am very sensitive to the smell of meat, poultry and fish, but at Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent I didn’t even know I was passing through the meat section till I read the “Go’shti” sign.
Presenting a selection of some of the markets I visited in Uzbekistan. Clicking on any of the photographs below will open a slide show. You can then use the left or right arrow keys to navigate through them and their accompanying captions.
At the end of 12 days of travel through 6 cities of Uzbekistan and countless meals and cups of green tea later, I had a sizable number of food- and market-related photographs, much to my surprise. Or maybe not, considering how much I enjoyed myself once I had gotten over my initial reluctance to photograph food and food-related stuff. I also surprised myself and bought quite a few things to bring back home to India — raisins, dried apricots, nougat, lemons, etc. This was a first for me as I rarely bring back food stuff preferring other types of souvenirs or keepsakes.
Everything is long over and attempts to grow a plant from the lemon seeds have failed. But the tasty and happy memories of food and markets linger with a special aroma of their own.
- Of Gila, the chef at my hotel in Nukus, singing Hindi film songs to me as she served me dinner.
- Of the waiter in the café at Samarqand who invited me to come back the next evening to have some festival food (it was Qurban Hayit or Bakri Id).
- Of the manager at the B&B I was staying in Samarqand serving me a vegetarian version of the plov (pulao) because it was Qurban Hayit.
- Of the priest at the Sheikh Syed Allauddin Mausoleum in Khiva offering me some special fried bread.
- Of the good folks at the restaurant in Shakhrisabz who rustled up some fresh salad and bread for lunch, even though they were closed for Qurban Hayit.
- Of Natalya, my guide in Tashkent introducing me to lemon green tea and becoming a fan for life after the first sip.
- Of the ginormous breakfast spreads comprising bread, cheese, fruit, preserves, pattice, eggs, etc.(see the photograph above):)
PS: I had great fun writing this post and giving you a small taste of Uzbekistan. Choosing to share just 36 photographs, though, was tough. Hope you enjoyed the tasting.
My Dream Trip Uzbekistan Series:
Dear Uzbekistan | A city called Nukus | Art in the Desert: The Savitsky Collection at Nukus | Mizdahkan: A city for the dead | 3 forts & a dakhma | Itchan Kala of Khiva | There’s something about Bukhara! | Monumental Bukhara | The Jewish Heritage of Bukhara | Shakhrisabz: The home town of Amir Timur | The Registan Square of Samarqand | The blue city of Samarqand | The silk paper factory at Konigil | The surprise & delight that was Tashkent | Uzbekistan: The food & markets special | The Uzbekistan trip planner |