The next influence, which again had a substantial impact, was the arrival of the
Soviets in the early 1900s. With the Soviets came Russians
and numerous Russian foods remain popular in Uzbekistan
today. Foods like pelmani (meat dumplings), peroshki (rice, meat,
or vegetables cooked in dough), borsch (beet soup), and more became popular
dishes, which can still be found today. The Russians also raised the interest in
fish, although the poor access to seafood means its popularity is still relatively
In more recent times the foods in Uzbekistan have gained
a more international flavor as many cities have adopted some "ethnic"
restaurants. These restaurants though are limited to what the local people have
grown accustomed to and enjoy, including Chinese,
Indian, Korean, and Turkish restaurants. More often
than not, these outside influences have altered home cooking more than they have
created the establishment of restaurants, although the country's largest cities
do have restaurants featuring these ethnic foods.
Bread: the local bread is generally flatbread called nan
or patyr and is served with nearly every meal
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Besbarmak/Beshbarmak: boiled mutton (or another
meat) with noodles and broth
Oshi Toki: rice and meat stuffed in grape leaves; usually
Plov/Pilaf: the national dish is rice fried with
meat, carrots, and onions
Shashlyk: grilled mutton, pork, or chicken sometimes served
with raw onions, parsley, and/or a vinegar sauce
Shurpa/Shurva: soup made from mutton and vegetables
The Uzbeks are very hospitable people and it is not uncommon
to be invited to a local's home. If you do get an invitation, be sure to bring
a gift; local sweets or, if you know your host drinks alcohol, a bottle of vodka
or wine is a great gift. Once you arrive for dinner remove your shoes and leave
them at the door, then greet everyone with a handshake (although some conservative
Muslims don't believe men and women should touch so wait for locals to extend
their hand first if they are of the opposite sex). The table will likely already
have food on it; this doesn't mean you're late, although you might be, but
instead is tradition as food should be on the table the entire meal. Before eating
begins you may encounter a few different circumstances: you may be asked to begin
the meal, you may be offered soup, tea, or a glass of vodka accompanied by a toast.
If offered vodka, it is rude to turn it down and you may be asked to offer a toast,
which should include thanks to the host.
Once you get past the initial course, most of the etiquette rules are over, or at
least the expectations are fairly relaxed for foreigners. The
Uzbeks are very forgiving of etiquette mistakes, but do your best to follow
suite. You may find that the host will serve everyone personally as certain cuts
of meat are reserved for certain people based on your importance or personality.
Unfortunately, this means you must eat what you're served and as a guest of
honor that could be a sheep head. You may also notice that after each course your
plate will be cleared and you will be given a new one. If dining at a restaurant
with locals, remember to avoid ordering pork products as most Uzbek Muslims don't
eat pork, although it is available and some Muslims do eat it.
You may find that there are utensils (cutlery) present; if so use them in any manner
you prefer, but ideally in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork
in the left), especially if in a formal setting. On other occasions you will be
expected to eat with your hand; if this is the case be sure to only use your right
hand to eat. You'll likely also be served bread with your meal, which must be
eaten in its entirety and placed directly on the table when not eating it; again
use your right hand to eat your bread. When the food is finished, you may be served
tea or another beverage, which you are expected to accept.
If dining out at a restaurant, check your bill to see if a "service charge"
has been added; most nice restaurants do include one. If not be sure to leave the
server a tip of about 5-10%.
Celebrations & Events
When it comes to celebrations in Uzbekistan, the largest
festival is most certainly nauryz, which is a New Year festival that is
celebrated each year on the spring equinox. This event celebrates new life as the
historically nomadic people have survived the long winter. During this event the
people generally join together to celebrate by eating a number of traditional dishes
including meat and sumalyak, a drink or soup of cream of wheat.
For more personal celebrations like a birthday or anniversary plov is the
one consistent and the main course. Although nearly as common is vodka and numerous
toasts which are all encouraged to participate in. During these events numerous
other dishes are also served.
If you want to meet locals in Uzbekistan sit down for
some tea or if invited out, you will most certainly be offered tea. Green tea is
the most popular tea and sugar is never added. For a more historic drink, try ayran,
which is a yogurt drink and more common during the hot summer months or sumalyak,
which is cream of wheat. If you want coffee, juice, or soft drinks, they are also
available although none have a true place in the country's culture.
Alcohol is popular in Uzbekistan, despite the fact that
the people are primarily Muslim, a religion that outlaws alcohol, however due to
the people's long history under Soviet rule there is little taboo with drinking
alcohol today. Even for locals who don't drink they rarely take offense when
others drink. Also due to Soviet influence, beer and vodka are the most popular
alcoholic drinks, but there are a few local wineries as well. Vodka, beer, and wine,
both local and foreign are widely available in the country. For other alcoholic
drinks, including most hard liquors, you may have troubles finding what you want,
but if you look hard enough they are available, although rarely in restaurants.
The tap water is generally not safe to drink in Uzbekistan,
but in Tashkent it is generally considered safe. The most cautious course of action
is to entirely avoid the tap water and items that could be made from or with the
water, such as ice, fruits, and salads. If you do decide to drink the local tap
water in Tashkent check with your local hotel or guesthouse to guarantee the cleanliness
of the water in the city. If the water is safe, remember that many people may have
trouble adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly be different
from what your system is used to if you are not from the region.