Uzbekistan has a lot going for it – a very rich history, plenty of brilliantly preserved examples of its history, loads of weird Soviet stuff just waiting to be uncovered, and a pretty vibrant 21 st Century atmosphere going on in places. Food though, although there’s becoming more variety and a higher quality in ingredients and standards, isn’t one of the main draw points.
In Tashkent and increasingly more in Samarqand and Bukhara as well, there’s becoming a wider range in what’s available, however in general, local food is very meat-heavy and quite fatty.
Breakfast doesn’t tend to be great, even in nice hotels. It often looks quite appealing as they’ll bring out lots of small plates of things and on first glance it appears colourful and enticing, but it’s usually quite boring and often stale. There’s always some type of bread and jams or honey, and usually eggs. In nicer places you’ll be able to asked for fried as opposed to the standard hard-boiled, but don’t get your hopes up too much. There will likely be a selection of sweet biscuits and often some other pastries as well. Bliniy, which are basically crepe-style pancakes, are a common breakfast food too, but they’re usually served cold and often rolled up with meat or vegetables inside.
Lunch and Dinner
The difference between lunch and dinner is mainly just about your own schedule and habits – there aren’t particular foods that are available for one and not the other. Sometimes we’ll be stopping briefly amidst sight-seeing or a full day drive, in which case you might be able to get pastries, shawarma or soup. Sometimes we might stop and have time for shashlik, manty or plov. And depending where we are there might be some more international choices such as pizza or even burgers.
Vegetarian and Vegan Food
Central Asia as a is not known for being vegetarian-friendly, and other than the handful of people that work closely with western tourists, most locals won’t even properly understand vegetarianism, let alone veganism. Of course, like with the general variety becoming wider and people becoming more aware of what’s eaten around the world, this is definitely changing. Especially in Tashkent now, it’s becoming ever easier to find whatever you want, but still, any vegetarians or vegans visiting Uzbekistan should be prepared to have limited options for at least some of their meals.
Common Dishes in Uzbekistan
Although Uzbekistan’s national dish, and definitely their pride and job, plov is found all throughout Central Asia (just don’t tell an Uzbek that!). It is cooked over the course of several hours, made with rice, meat and vegetables, all cooked in meat fat in a huge pan. Plov can vary region to region, even town to town, and this is definitely something you’ll be told about during travels, so if it’s something you enjoy you can try all the different varieties – some cook the meat with the rice, some cook it separately; some include extra ingredients such as sultanas or variations of carrots; some use beef, others lamb; sometimes there’s a boiled (hard of course) egg, sometimes there isn’t. You just have to make sure that you tell each one that the plov from their hometown is the best!
Also common throughout Central Asia, this is one of the most common dishes you’ll come across. A shashlik is a stick of marinated meat, whether it be chicken, lamb, beef, duck or pork. It will come with a spiced vinegar, a pile of raw onions, and some bread. Shashlik can be really delicious, but like anything you can definitely get over it if you have it too often!
This is actually a Uyghur dish, so again it’s really common throughout Central Asia, originating in Western China. It’s made from hand-pulled noodles, with a mildly spicy sauce of meat and vegetables.
Drinking in Uzbekistan
Alcohol is incredibly cheap in Turkmenistan, with cheap local beer available just about everywhere for upto about $1 a pint, and of course being a former Soviet country, vodka is aplenty and probably too affordable. There are also other options of course, including normal things like cola and fanta, but there are also some interesting ones too, such as kumis and shubat.