The most distinctive and advanced aspect of Uzbek culture is its cuisine. Uzbek people have had a solid and settled civilization for many centuries. Needless to say, the national cuisine of any nation is based on its economy and its arable land. Uzbekistan possesses an ideal climate for cattle breeding, poultry farms and agriculture, which are well developed. There are abundant crops yearly of wheat, rice, corn, barley and beans/pulses, thanks to a warm climate. The climate also assists in the growing of large variety of fruits, vegetables and nuts. The plentiful fruits and vegetables grown throughout the country define the peak of Uzbek national cuisine and its flavor and fragrances. Food preparation and preserving techniques, handed down for generations, also allow for more creative dishes year round.
Peculiarities of Uzbek Cuisine
Cookery can be considered as an applied art. For centuries, Uzbek cuisine has acquired specific features, tastes and genres. The acquaintance with this aspect of national creativity presents great historical and cultural interest. Throughout the ages, Uzbek people have gained rich experience in food preparation by creating hundreds of delicious dishes and delicacies with recipes preserved until today.
The Uzbek dishes are not spicy (not hot) although they are tasty. The usage of various spices and greens (black caraway, black and red pepper, barberries, sesame) is significant for preparing delicious dishes. The most popular greens that are used are parsley, dill, celery and basilica. Other spices include vinegar added in salads and for pickling cucumbers, tomatoes and garlic. The following fruits are also used in some food preparation quince, pomegranate, fresh and dried plum, alycha (damson) and sultana (raisins).
Uzbek cuisine does have seasonal dishes including salad with radish and sour-cream, sumalak, dumplings with greens, samsa with greens, meet rolls with grapes leaves, roast beef and cauliflower, and lentil soup with mint which are made mostly in the spring. Shashlik with tomatoes, meat rolled in cabbage leaves, stuffed peppers, lagman, cold soup of sour milk, stewed meat and vegetables, ayran, tea and compotes are made mostly in summer. Fried meat, fish shashlik, roastbeef of lamb, quail soup, osh with quince, manti with potatoes or pumpkin are made mostly in autumn. Various oshs (kazi-karta, postdumba), lamb shashlik salad with green radish, soups, lentil porridge, different dried fruits, jams, compotes, various pickled vegetables are made in the winter.
It is impossible to imagine the life of Uzbek people without its unique tasty nan (hot bread). It is usually referred to as lepyoshka in the Russian language. Anyone who has ever tried it even once has fell in love with it. According to legend, the Bukhara emir once tasted the amazingly delicious Samarkand bread. He ordered to bring the best baker in Samarkand to his palace in Bukhara and bake the same bread for him. The baker obeyed and fulfilled the emir’s desire. However, the taste of the bread appeared to be different from the bread he had eaten from Samarkand. Furious the emir demanded an explanation from the baker who justified his positions by saying “There is no Samarkand air here”. The majority of Uzbek breads are baked in special ovens called tandirs. Tandir baking is a guarantee for wonderful qualities of bread. The process of baking in a tandir takes about 10-15 minutes. The wide-spread type of Uzbek bread, obi-nan, is baked from common dough with a special leaven.
Famous Uzbek Dishes - Osh (Plov in Russian, Pilaf in English)
Osh is the most popular dish of the Uzbek cuisine. It mainly consists of fried meat, onions, carrots, rice with adding of sultana, barberries, peas or fruits. The Uzbek men are proud of their ability to cook excellent and delicious osh. A true Uzbek osh is cooked on the open fire in special cauldron. Traditionally, it is cooked in the crockery for nomads – in a metallic pot. There are many old recipes and types of osh. Usually osh is served in the large flat dish called a lagan. Over the centuries, Uzbeks have eaten osh with their hands from one common dish. Although this is common in the villages and at special ceremonies, eating osh with spoons has become more customary. Bread and salad of fresh tomatoes and onions are always served with osh. Uzbek people for centuries have used classical technology for preparing osh. There are plenty of variations of the dish. Gourmands prefer Samarkand, Bukhara and Khorezm variants of osh especially. Special osh is cooked for wedding ceremonies. Each region in Uzbekistan has its own secret way of cooking this dish. These secrets create a cornucopia of taste and flavor.
Samsa is baked with two layers of dough and is a food which amazes by its excellent taste and aroma. Samsa is made in special stove called a tandir. Different fillings may be used to make samsa including meat, potato, pumpkin and greens.
The flat dough is rolled and flattened. Then the filling is placed in the middle of the dough square with a small slice of fat. The dough is then closed and pinched on top and formed into a triangle shape. The pinched side of the samsa is put on tandir’s wall. Then tandir is firmly covered and in 20 minutes, the top is opened and at the bottom of the tandir the fire is extinguished, and the samsa is left in the tandir for another 10-15 minutes. Samsa is then served hot and is really a pleasure to eat!
Kebab is an indigenous Turkish food. However, it has gradually become a staple dish of Central Asia. The taste qualities are really excellent. Every type of kebab consists of mutton minced (lyulya) or mutton chop. The cooks also divide the mutton brisket, tenderize it, add spices and roast the brisket on both sides until fully ready.
The mutton is divided in two halves. Lyulya is made of one-half and kebab chunks from the other half. To cook lyulya you should mince the mutton and onions together in a mincing machine. This mix is then specially spiced. Four long cylinders in the shape of a cucumber are made and then formed onto a metallic stick and roasted over hot coals. This is an incredibly delicious dish, and one of the favorites of tourists.
Sumalak is a festive dish of Uzbek cuisine made of grown wheat seeds. It is cooked during the Navruz celebration (celebration of spring on March 21st). Uzbek ancestors made sumalak before the forthcoming spring planting and gardening work as a ritual food. The seeds of wheat are grinded and then boiled in a cauldron in cotton oil with some flour added during a 10-12 hour period. Big stones are placed at the bottom of the cauldron so that the dish does not get burned. Singing and discussion accompany the process of sumalak making. The dish is served after cooling. People believe that this dish gives physical and spiritual power.
There are several legends about the origin of sumalak. Once people from the east surrounded the town-fortress on the bank of Jeykhun. When the city dwellers run out of food during the invasion, the elders ordered to bring the last sacks of damp wheat to prepare. When the town’s defenders tried the unattractive food, they felt such burst of energy and that they resisted the invaders furiously. The invaders could not match the strength of the town dwellers and retreated. Peace came to the land again.
A farmer preparing to sow wheat moistened the seeds. They grew, but at this moment, the weather turned for the worse. The farmer asked his wife to make porridge from those seeds. After boiling for a long time, the food was ready. The husband was very pleased with the dish. Since that time, sumalak has been cooked every year throughout Central Asia.