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Uzbek National Cuisine

It is said that in order to get to know a person better, 36 pounds of salt should be eaten with him. So, in order to know better the customs and culture of a nation, its national dishes should be tasted.

The Uzbek national cuisine has a centuries-old history and reflects the diversity of the customs and traditions of the people. The development of the cuisine benefited much from the new crops which had come from the countries of the Great Silk Road. Moreover, the local rulers used to bring the best culinary experts from the conquered lands.

Aromatic green teaIn every Uzbek house a guest is always offered a piala (a small bowl) of aromatic green tea. According to the original Uzbek tea ceremony the tea from the teapot that has just been filled with boiling water to brew is to be poured into the piala and returned to the teapot three times. Only in this way all the aroma and flavor of the tea is believed to emerge. As a token of respect for the guest the host fills only one-half of the piala, and then, putting the right hand to his heart, with his left hand holds out this piala to the guest. At the same time the fresh flat round Uzbek bread is served. This bread is still made in accordance with the ancestral recipe in the clay oven tandyr. The traditional feast at the Uzbek home starts with sweets. Offered to go with the tea, they are the crystallized sugar navat; the candy parvarda, which is made from flour and sugar; sweet tiny cakes; the halva halvoiytar (halva is a hard paste of nuts, sugar and oil).

Along with the titbits the guests are treated to the rich mutton soup shurpa, which is spiced with plenty of fennel and parsley.

One of the favorite dishes in Uzbekistan is lagman. Its recipe was brought by Uigur culinary experts from the Chinese province Xinjiang. This dish, combining in itself the first and the second course, contains long handmade noodles dressed with sauce with pieces of meat and vegetables.

Yet the main dish of the Uzbek cuisine is pilav. Pilav is an indispensable part of any festive meal: none of the weddings or any other important occasions, on which guests are ever received, can do without it.

Uzbek lagman Uzbek pilav (pilaff, pilau, plov)

As the legend says, the way of cooking pilav was "invented" during the conquest of Sogdiana by Alexander the Great. Supposedly, during a long mission trip his army ran out of food, except one sack of rice and a wild sheep that they had managed to kill. The cook made a dish from this stuff, spicing it with the seeds of some steppe herbs, and the amount of that "first pilav" turned out to be sufficient to feed the whole army.

The respect of the Uzbeks for pilav can be traced in their language: the Uzbek for 'pilav' is 'osh', which literally means 'food'.

In the past pilav was a feast of the poor and everyday meal of the rich. According to historical sources, the emir of Bukhara used to eat pilav three times a day and arranged a sort of cooking contest for the best pilav among his dignitaries.

There is a wide variety of cooking ways of pilov. Depending on the region of Uzbekistan, it is cooked either in fat of sheep's tail or in vegetable oil; besides meat, rice and onions, which are the basic ingredients, the following is often added: red or yellow carrots, seeds of thyme, ground chilly, white raisins or pomegranate seeds, dried barberries, marrowfat peas, pieces of quince, heads of garlic. As a rule, pilav is served with green radish chopped into thin sticks, or with the salad achik-chuchuk which is made from finely cut tomatoes, onions and chilly.

Uzbek cuisine can't be considered as such without the flaky pasty somsa, which has minced meat and a piece of fat of sheep's tail inside; or the original ravioli-like Uzbek manty, which are filled with meat, potatoes or sweet pumpkin, and cooked in steam.

Uzbek somsa Uzbek manty

At any time of the year there is always an addition of fresh fruit on the table, for Uzbekistan is so rich in apples, pears, peaches, grapes, persimmons, melons and water-melons.

Uzbek shashlik (beef kebab)Traditionally any Uzbek feast treatment finishes with the mutton or beef kebab shashlik. Gourmets especially value jigar-kebab made of sheep's liver.

Each dish should be served in a special kind of china or earthenware. Pilav is served on the large flat plate lyagan, whereas for shurpa and lagman the deep bowl kosa is used, tea is especially good in the small drinking bowl piala.

We have told here only about the most common dishes of the Uzbek national cuisine, while there are about 200 of them. Each region of the country has its own favorite dish: the small sausages of minced meat and rice hasip of Fergana Valley; shurpa with the small ravioli-like chuchvara of Khorezm. On visiting Samarkand one can't help tasting boiled marrowfat peas and mutton served on the special flat round bread patyr.

Nowadays, when fast-food restaurants are omnipresent and so many people eat burgers and hotdogs in a hurry, the Uzbek tradition of enjoying delicious food and unhurried conversation at a friendly table deserves special respect and recognition.

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