The cuisine of Uzbekistan has a lot in common with the food of the rest of Central Asia. Indeed, it shares much of its heritage with neighboring countries, thanks to their similar agricultural resources. To Americans, many dishes may look exotic, but ingredients are quite similar in origin. Grain farming, for instance, is widespread here, so you will often find breads, rice and noodles on the menu. Carrots and onions also figure prominently in various preparation, as do other in-season vegetables such as cabbage, eggplant tomato and garlic. And with an abundance of sheep roaming the hillsides, mutton is a very popular ingredient. Herewith, a primer on the Uzbek diet.
Obi non – The staple bread of Uzbekistan is baked in a tandir, or clay oven. So central is it to Uzbek culture that it was mentioned in The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of oldest written works in the world. Variations of non (bread) are made around the country, from the small, thick non of Samarkand to the sesame-sprinkled non of Bukhara.
Manti, chuchvara, somsa – These dumpling dishes can be filled with various ingredients, from lamb or beef to cabbage or potato. Manti may be served as an appetizer with sour cream, ketchup, or onions dashed with vinegar and black pepper. Chuchvara may be prepared as part of a larger dish, such as vegetables in a tomato sauce. Samsa is more of a meat pastry and has the appearance of baked buns.
Oshi toki – Similar to dolma found throughout the Mediterranean, these stuffed grape leaves are usually served as a small plate or appetizer.
Palov – Uzbekistan’s signature dish is a blend of rice, meat and grated carrots and onions. Similar to pilaf (and also related linguistically!), it may be served any time of day. One version of it (plov) is typically served in the morning as part of multi-day family celebrations.
Shurpa – This soup is prepared with chunks of fatty mutton and fresh vegetables.
Norin – The pasta and meat dish, made with very thin hand-rolled noodles, can be served hot or cold.
Dimlama – This stew of Turkic origin is made with meat, potatoes, onions, vegetables and sometimes fruits. It’s a popular spring or summer meal as the vegetables are in season.
Kebabs – Though kebabs are cooked throughout the world, they were first skewered and grilled over an open flame in the Middle East. In Uzbekistan, they are served as a main course.
Green tea – The national hot beverage of Uzbekistan, green tea is served throughout the day in homes and teahouses alike. Tea – whether green or black – is part of every meal.
Ayran – A refreshing and nutritious summertime staple, ayran is a chilled yogurt drink.
Wine – Some 14 wineries operate in Uzbekistan; despite that Uzbeks consider themselves Muslim, they live a largely secular lifestyle. But the grapes grown here don’t exactly roll off the English-speaking tongue: Gulyakandoz, Shirin, Aleatiko and Kabernet likernoe. (This last one translates into “Cabernet dessert wine” in Russian.) By some accounts, vines were introduced here by the Romans as they passed through on the legendary Silk Road. Today, wines produced here win international awards.