Nobody realises how amazing Uzbek food is until they visit the incredible cities of the Silk Road. Once you’ve tried the best traditional food of Uzbekistan, you will never forget it. As foreigners, we all have biases towards the “Stan” countries. The negative press of Afghanistan and Pakistan gave the other “Stans” a bad reputation, but Uzbekistan is not shy to show off their unique bread, plov, soups, fresh fruits, vegetables of all kinds, hundreds of different types of salads, and delicious meat mixed with amazing hospitality.
When Globalwot asked me to write about Uzbek food, I could not say no! How can I not share the delicious food of Uzbekistan, which has stolen my heart. I feel I need to share with the world what Uzbekistan has to offer. Being an Ambassador for Uzbek food is an honor and it is time the world knows about this jewel of Central Asia.
Let me introduce you to the 6 best traditional foods of Uzbekistan; you have to try these when you visit:
- Green noodles
Plov is the national food of Uzbekistan. It represents its people and culture, and they are very proud of it. I always say that if you want to know a country and its people, you need to try their food.
Plov is cooked in a cast-iron pot called a kazan. Traditionally, plov is cooked only by men, but of course, moms know how to make a perfect plov. There is one special ingredient – the sweet yellow carrots – that make plov unique. Markets sell these, already cut up in strips to add to the household plov. During National Holidays, weddings, and special occasions, men will take over the kazan and prepare plov for the whole family and friends. Each region of Uzbekistan has its own recipe. I have tried plov pretty much in every single region and Samarkand plov has won my heart! Sorry, Tashkent, Bukhara, Khiva, and Fergana Valley plov!
While you can eat plov any day of the week, it is common on Thursdays in many Uzbek households. We were told by our Uzbek friends that, supposedly, plov gives men the energy they need to please their wives in the evening, and Thursday is the day of choice! We had so many questions about this tradition; is it a good thing for their marriage? I guess we will never know!
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large onions, sliced
1 1/2 lb lamb meat, cut into pieces
1 lb long-grain rice
1 lb yellow and orange carrots, cut into medium sticks
1 garlic head
1 tbsp cumin seeds (or powder)
1 tsp coriander powder
salt and pepper
Heat oil in a dutch oven, or wok, on a very high flame and add the onions. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally for 5-7 minutes, then add the lamb.
Cook the lamb for 10 minutes and add the carrots. Keep cooking for 10 more minutes.
Add cumin, coriander, salt, pepper and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil.
Peel the skin off the garlic head and slice the top off, exposing the garlic cloves, and then add it to the meat.
Reduce heat to medium-low, cover with a lid and cook for about 1 hour. Meanwhile, wash the rice thoroughly.
Taste the liquid for salt and adjust if necessary. Add the rice and spread it out evenly.
Add 3 cups of boiling water, reduce heat to low, cover the dutch oven with lid and cook for 25-30 minutes. At the end of cooking time, check if the water has been absorbed fully, and, if not, let it cook a little longer. Once ready, let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.
2. Uzbek Bread (non, nan, patir, or lepeshka)
Bread is a part of every Uzbek meal. It is called non, patir, or lepeshka in Russian. The day after I arrived, I went to find the famous Uzbek bread. Luckily enough I found a bakery right across from my house. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I bought a warm, steamy bread fresh out of the tandir (tandoor) oven.
The Bread Oven
The traditional tandir clay oven was brought to Central Asia by Persians, Arabs, and Mongols. A tandir can hold about fifty pieces of bread at a time, or even more. The baker uses a special tool to place the bread inside of the walls of the tandir oven. Watching bread go into the oven is true entertainment. The oven can be taller than a man, with an opening or door that you step into to put the bread on the wall, or it can be short and squat with an opening at the top.
Traditionally, the ovens were fuelled by wood or coal, but now they mostly use gas.
Respect the Bread
Not only is bread one of the best traditional foods of Uzbekistan, but it is also considered sacred in Uzbek culture. From childhood, Uzbek are taught to treat bread with respect. Knives are forbidden when cutting the bread because it signifies that you are hurting the bread. A person should break the bread with their hands and take just the piece that he/she will be eating. Take only what you can eat. Any bread that falls on the floor, or is found on the ground is picked up and carefully placed where birds might enjoy it. It is never just thrown away.
The Circular Shape
The circular form, with a crispy decorated middle, is the standard for Uzbek bread. Uzbekistan is divided into 12 regions and each region has its own version and form.
The famous Samarkand bread is widely regarded as the best in Uzbekistan. It is thick and heavy, with smooth glossy sides, and a small amount of black sesame seed in the middle. Don’t try to replicate this bread in a different region because it won’t work. According to the people in Samarkand, the air is the special ingredient. I was sure it was the amount of butter they added, but as a baker who has tried them all, I believe they are right!
I visited a small town in Fergana Valley named Kokan; a city famous for its thin, buttery, and decorated bread. Kokan is known to be the windiest city in Uzbekistan. They even have unique Uzbek words used to describe the wind of Kokan. Kokan bread is known to last for a long time yet it always feels like it is fresh. It is crunchy and reminded me of a German pretzel; perfect to eat with the Uzbek shurpa (soup, see the recipe further on). So, to me, it makes sense that the air of different regions is an ingredient, and it helps explain the delicious and crunchy bread of Kokan.
I can’t close this part without mentioning the soft bread from Tashkent. This bread reminds me of French bread, and is my all-time favorite. Especially the bread from my neighborhood bakery. I can literally smell the fresh bread from my house. And my extra 10 kilos is proof of how delicious this bread is. The crunchy crust and the fluffy dough eaten with delicious kaimak (creamy sour-milk) goes very well with afternoon tea, according to my neighbor.
Tashkent Lepeshka Bread Recipe
1.5 liters of full-fat milk
5 tbsp of olive oil (or any vegetable oil)
1.5 tbsp of salt
1 tbsp of sugar
1 cup of toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp of baking soda (optional)
4 cups of all-purpose white flour
Whole wheat flour as needed
Heat up milk and add in oil, sugar, and salt. Stir well, until sugar and salt are completely dissolved.
Take the mixture from the heat and add in sesame seeds. Add in 4 cups of white flour and baking soda, and then mix everything.
Now slowly add in whole wheat flour, until you form a soft, but not sticky dough.
At the end, oil your hands and work your dough for about 5 min. Cover and let it rest for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, prepare your clay oven. Divide the dough into 10 – 14 pieces depending on the size of the bread you want to bake. Work them into smooth balls.
You will need a special tool called “rapida” to stick it to the inside walls of the oven. Before sticking the bread, grease the back of it with a little bit of water, just to make it sticky enough.
When the bread is golden-brown in color, it is ready. Take it out carefully. Always keep your face out or you can burn out your eyelashes. Also, take care of your hands, wear something with long sleeves and wear cotton gloves. The locals make it look easy, but it can take some practice.
Enjoy your Uzbek bread!
The best traditional dishes of Uzbekistan start with amazing ingredients. When you are constantly surrounded by amazing fresh organic vegetables, the final results will be irresistible salads. In Uzbekistan, every meal should be accompanied by a salad. And in my experience, Uzbekistan has the most delicious salads in the world.
And good news, they are simple to make.
A combination of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, eggplants, and peppers are the ingredients for a typical Uzbek salad. But, a plain juicy red tomato will do as an accompaniment to your bread – the flavors of the vegetables and salad ingredients here are unbelievable.
What makes it extra tasty is the fresh herbs used in many salads. Dill, basil (red, green, small, and big), coriander, parsley, you name it.
Something many Westerners have lost is the real taste of fresh organic vegetables. Our taste buds are used to manufactured meals, vegetables full of pesticides, and frozen food. When tasting an organic tomato, it is an explosion of sweetness and flavor. That’s what Uzbekistan wants us to experience!
Let’s talk about favorite salads; Achichiq chuchuk (tomatoes and cucumber salad), Baqlajon salat (eggplant salad), and Tashkent salad. These are three of my favorite Uzbek salads. They go well with any meal; and especially with plov, shashlik, and somsa.
Achichiq chuchuk (tomatoes and cucumber salad) Recipe
An appetizing tomato and cucumber salad. This is my favorite salad, especially when I eat plov. I eat this salad at least twice a week, and it makes me feel like the healthiest woman alive!
1 medium onion
2 medium tomatoes
Coriander and basil
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp cold water
Cut the onions into thin slices. Put the onions in a bowl with cold water. Then cut the tomatoes into thin slices. Chop some coriander and basil. Remove the onions from the bowl. Mix tomato, onions, coriander, basil, salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Enjoy the freshness of this salad!
Baqlajon Salad (Eggplant Salad) Recipe
Here is a recipe from the heart. The ladies of Globalwot and I searched for the best pottery in Uzbekistan. We drove to Gizhduvan to meet a famous master potter and we ended up having an amazing meal with this incredible family. The mother made the best eggplant salad I have ever tasted. Not only did we enjoy an amazing meal, but along with some pottery, we left with the eggplant salad recipe.
1 kg eggplant
2 red bell peppers
2 green bell peppers
3 cloves of garlic
Coriander and dill
1 cup oil
1 tsp sugar
¼ cup of water
Salt and black pepper
Cut the onions, peppers, and tomatoes into thin slices, smash the garlic, and chop the coriander and dill. In a saucepan add oil, onions, salt, black pepper, and sugar.
Fry at a high temperature for a minute, then add red bell peppers and fry for another minute, then add green peppers and fry for a minute. Add tomatoes and fry for a minute, then add the eggplant and fry for a minute. Add the water, cover the saucepan and let it steam for 5-7 minutes.
That’s it. You’re welcome, world!
Tashkent Salad Recipe
There is no way I wouldn’t share the famous Tashkent salad. Because of the strong Russian influence in the country, some aspects of Uzbek cuisine are Russian. Tashkent salad is proof that two cultures can come together.
How can meat and veggies not go together in a salad?
200 g (7 oz) mutton or beef
200 g (7 oz) green radishes
80 g (3 oz) onions
6 g (1 teaspoon) vegetable oil
140 g or 5/8 cup mayonnaise
1/2 bunch (1/2 oz) each: dill
1/2 bundle (2 oz) green onions
Boil the meat and cut into thin strips. Peel green radishes, cut into thin strips, soak in cold water for 10-15 minutes, and drain. Fry thinly sliced onions in oil. Combine meat, radish, fried onions, mayonnaise (to taste), salt and pepper and mix. Garnish with quartered boiled eggs, chopped green onions and greens. Top each serving with a coating of the remaining mayonnaise. (original recipe here)
In Uzbekistan, almost every meal includes soup. At a traditional Uzbek table, salad, soup, and a main dish (such as plov or shaslik) are typical during lunch and dinner time. First, a tasty salad of your choice is served; don’t forget the traditional Uzbek bread, followed by soup. My favorite is shurpa, a flavorful lamb/beef soup, mixed with vegetables. Usually served with a chunk of potato and pieces of carrots. Cumin and cilantro give a delectable fresh taste. I can eat the whole pot if I am allowed. That’s how I gained 10 kilos!
Shurpa Soup Recipe
1-2 lb lamb ribs
3 medium yellow onions, sliced
2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
3 medium potatoes, halved
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 chili pepper, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tbsp dried basil
⅓ cup cilantro, chopped
1 sweet onion, sliced
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp oil
Season lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over high heat and brown meat on all sides, about 5 minutes.
Cover meat with water and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that comes up.
Reduce the heat to low and cook partially covered for 30 minutes.
Add carrots and onions to the soup and cook for 20 minutes longer.
While the soup is cooking, combine sliced sweet onion with sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside to marinate.
Add potatoes, spices, salt and pepper to the pot and simmer until potatoes are almost cooked through; about 10 minutes.
Then add peppers and tomatoes and cook for another 10 minutes.
Add marinated onion and its juices to the soup and cook for a few more minutes.
Serve garnished with cilantro.
Mastava Soup Recipe
¼ cup of rice
1 tbsp oil
2 lb or 1 kilo meat
1 liter of water
Greens (dill, cilantro, and basil)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Cut the vegetables and the meat into squares. In a saucepan add oil and meat. Fry for about 5 minutes then add onions. Continue stirring for about two minutes then add all the other vegetables. Add water, salt, and pepper. Let it cook for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables and meat are cooked. Serve with fresh greens. Eat the whole pot if you want!
This is a delectable hot pastry that you can find anywhere in Uzbekistan. Sometimes it is spelled samsa, samsar or somsar. Most of them are filled with meat, chicken, or potatoes, but some fillings are seasonal such as green somsa (green vegetables in season) and pumpkin somsa (my all-time favorite).
Somsa are usually baked in the tandir oven.
My first time making somsa, I marinated the meat with lots of onions and cumin, I believe that’s the secret of a good meat somsa. The crispy crust is another secret. According to a local baker, the dough needs to rest overnight in the fridge to have the right consistency. I have tried it and I believe it is true.
The locals also teach you how to eat somsa in a proper way. First, you break it in half, be careful of escaping steam. Second, you add vinegar, then add Uzbek tomato sauce before taking a bite. The vinegar was unexpected but it goes really well with somsa. My favorite somsa place in Tashkent is Salima Ona Somsalari, a block away from Chorsu Bazaar. If you are ever in Tashkent, you have to try it; it is pure food perfection.
Somsa Recipe (from GastroSenses)
2 cups flour
1 cup warm water
½ tsp salt
½ cup melted ghee
Sift the flour through the sieve into a mixing bowl.
Add salt to a cup of warm water and mix until dissolved.
Combine the water with flour and knead the dough to form a dough ball. It took 10 minutes in the stand mixer.
Cover the dough ball and leave to rest for 30 min.
Once rested, sprinkle the working surface with a little flour and roll the dough into a thin rectangular sheet approximately 2-3mm or ⅛ inch thick.
Cover the sheet with melted ghee.
Starting on one edge, roll the dough tightly like a cigar.
Cut the roll into 18 equal pieces.
Press each piece with the palm of your hand to make a patty.
Stack patties with parchment paper between them in an airtight container, and place in the fridge to chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.
1 lb fatty meat, cut in small thin slices
3 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cumin
Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Leave to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Take the dough patties out of the fridge and roll each patty out into a thin circle sheet using a rolling pin. Roll on one side only and never flip the dough.
Divide the filling between each circle evenly.
Bring two opposite sides together making a triangle. Pinch the corners. Then bring the bottom part and pinch together again.
Put the somsa on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper if using a conventional oven.
Cover with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if you like.
Bake at 385 F for 30 minutes or until golden. Or throw them against the wall of your tandoor oven!
6. Khorezm Shivit Oshi (Green Noodles)
While in Khiva, our Uzbek friend advised us to try Shivit Oshi. It is a bright colorful dish that you can only find in the Khorezm region. Legend says, that Khorezm is the only place to find the “real” Shivit Oshi. We found them at Cafe Zarafshon in the center of Itchan Kala (the old town of Khiva). They will never give the recipe… I tried!
Dill is mixed into the dough, which gives the green color. With the fast pace of life, overtime, Khorezmians adapted to this simple and fast noodle dish. Here is a local recipe you can try.
Green Noodles Dough Recipe
700 g flour
2 cups of water
4-5 bundles of dill
1 tsp salt
Finely chop the dill. Mix salt, egg, and water. Add flour, knead the dough. Stir the dill in the dough. Cover with foil and let rest for half an hour.
Meat for the Noodles
300 g meat
Onions and tomatoes to taste
100 g oil
Cut meat, onions, tomatoes, potatoes into cubes 1-1.5 cm. Heat the oil in a large frypan, then add the meat and vegetables.
While cooking the meat and vegetables, roll out the dough 2-3 mm thick. Sprinkle flour, fold like an accordion, cut into strips. Roll the noodles in flour.
Boil noodles in boiling salted water. Serve with gravy and sprinkle with dill.
Traveling helps you understand people and culture, but the connection with food is so much stronger. The traditional food of Uzbekistan has taken me by surprise, in a way I could never have imagined. Their food clearly shows the hospitality Uzbekistan has to offer. And the traditions help me understand the respect they have for food and its own people. From the traditional plov to Uzbek nan, from eating in a yurt to eating in a famous Uzbek cafe, Uzbekistan will show you the mysteries of the Silk Road best through its traditional dishes.