Food is often closely tied with a country’s geographical makeup and history, and nowhere did I find that to be more true than when I was traveling across Uzbekistan. The land-locked territory, known for her ties with the historic Silk Road, boasts an eclectic cuisine that is heavily influenced by Turkic culinary traditions across Central Asia.
Here are 11 traditional Uzbek dishes I sampled during my one-week trip across Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand, and Tashkent, that you shouldn’t miss if you’re in any of these cities!
No other dish comes quite close to representing Uzbekistan as plov. This hearty, meat-based dish is a testament to the country’s terrain and culinary traditions. Typically served with rice, meat, grated carrots, onions, raisins, and quail’s egg, plov is prepared over an open flame, and can serve enormous amounts of people from a single cauldron. Aside from the gaminess of the meat, the fluffy, aromatic rice is quite unlike anything you’ll encounter elsewhere in Asia.
Tea is another integral part of Uzbek food culture, and for good reason, too. It would be surprising to not find a variety of tea blends that have made their way into local households, given the dizzying amount of trade and cultures that passed through Uzbekistan during her heyday.
The most popular and ubiquitous tea blends include green tea, with black tea being the most popular in the capital city, Tashkent. You can also enjoy your tea with a variety of local sweets, especially halva and navat!
Teashop hunting quickly became a mainstay of our agenda whenever we encountered a new city during our trip. I’d say my favourites in terms of the atmosphere were Silk Road Tea House in Bukhara and Caravan Khiva Restuarant in Khiva!
3. Shivit Oshi (Only in Khiva)
If there’s one thing you cannot leave Khiva without trying at least once, it’s shivit oshi. This unique, green-tinted noodles are coloured with dill and served with a wholesome stew of beef, potatoes, and carrots, along with a side of yogurt to counter the stew’s richness.
While the vibrantly-coloured dish is available at most restaurants and cafes within the old walled city, it’s impossible to find it anywhere else. We had our first and only sampling of shivit oshi at Khorezm Art Restaurant.
4. Yumurta barak (Only in Khiva)
Another dish that’s only available within the walls of Itchan Kala in Khiva is yumurtabarak. These are egg dumplings that are typically eaten with yogurt sauce, though their lightness and moistness make them equally delicious on their own.
At first glance, gumma looks like a fried version of yumurta barak, stuffed with minced meat and onion and seasoned with parsley, pepper, and salt.
Bread is another staple in Uzbekistan culinary culture that’s as ubiquitous as plov. Whether as a quick meal or an appetiser before a meat-based main course, it is commonly served cold, with intricate patterns stamped into the dough before baking. Don’t be surprised to find stacks of them waiting to be bought at the markets!
One dish I’ve not quite been able to get over from my trip more than two years ago would be shashilik. The mouthwatering skewers of lamb, beef, and chicken are grilled over an open flame before being served with a side of vegetables. The best shashilik that we tried during our trip was at Mavrigi Restaurant in Bukhara, which has unfortunately closed since then. Nevertheless, it was so delicious that I couldn’t help dreaming of it during our train ride to Samarkhand!
If the manti looks familiar to you, it is because it presumably originated from the Chinese mantou. Manti are steamed dumplings that consist of finely chopped meat wrapped in a thin dough, and served with yogurt. The delicate dumplings can be especially comforting during cold, balmy evenings that are characteristic of spring in Uzbekistan.
9. Kifta shurva
As the weather got progressively colder at the midpoint of our trip, soup-based dishes like kifta shurva became almost essential during dinner time. The light- low-calorie soup is typically prepared with beef stock and served with handmade meatballs and vegetables.
Another Uzbek dish whose origins can be traced back to China would be lag’mon. This noodle dish can be found in Bukhara, Samarkhand, and Tashkent, and is served both dry and as a soup. While the soup version, which has a distinct tomato-like base that is both rich and comforting, appeared more often during our trip, we had a chance to sample the dry version at Old Bukhara Restaurant in Bukhara.
11. Breakfast of Champions
Much like Uzbek’s history, breakfast can be a rich and elaborate affair. Aside from flatbread, you can expect to find a variety of sweets and teas to help you get pumping for the day!