The city of Samarkand is well known for it's bejewelled spectacle Registan, and Shah-i-Zinda creeping up the side of a cemetery hill with royal tombs scattered helter skelter. It is a welcome change from the wide, soulless streets of Tashkent, and also offers a lighter mood than the slightly unfriendly Bukhara.
Of all the hotels I had to walk into, I chose the one. My owner was bored to death since all his guests had cancelled, and I was the sole warrior of western intentions. He was violently pleased when I told him I mostly travel for food, and set about explaining to me a few places I should visit, and ended up driving me to two of his favourites during my time there.
His advice and taste in food was exemplary, and I got to really explore a couple of places that tourists rarely venture, especially in these Corona times. Samarkand definitely had the best food I tasted in my two weeks in Uzbekistan, that along with a little bit of luck seeing some of the sights, despite shutdown, left me with a great impression of this historic city.
If you're looking for the best food in Samarkand, look no further:
Where to eat
ikrom shashlik ($$)
Chiseled out of pure marble, with the air of a bonafide Bond villain, the shashlik sadhu stands by the hot coals, as he has done for 21 years. A vegetarians weeping nightmare, a vegan's purgatory, this place is a palace to meat. A veritable temple of top round, church of chuck, cathedral of kebabs. Everything I ate here was spectacularly seasoned and cooked like only a true expert could. If you come to Samarkand and miss this place, there will be hell to pay.
Of course, Mark Wien's paid a visit to Ikrom too:
restaurant samarkand ($$)
With it's wildy imaginative name, this place is worth tracking down if you want to burn the credit cards a touch, and dine in sheer opulence. The gigantic restaurant features a cosy outdoor dining area, hallways ripped from a Tsars palace, and an indoor disco complete with dancefloor and obscenely loud music banging out while punters grab pieces of meat like they're going out of fashion.
friends plov centre ($)
Plov, Plov, Plov..... I wasn't overly excited when my hotel boss told me he was taking me to the best place in town, his treat. I scrambled into the car and started breathing exercises to calm the mind and prepare myself for yet another rather tasteless meal of fatty animal and rice kernels.
To my utter delight, this ended up being the best plov I tried in all of Uzbekistan, so the man knew his chops. A standalone restaurant in a boring neighborhood with nothing else around, yet throngs of devotees had found this sacrament of rice-adultery and fastened their claws into plates the size of baking trays.
The best plov in Samarkand? You betcha. Being almost impossible to find I had to screenshot the map to give you any hope of tracking it down:
A corridor of curiosities, rooms holding secrets, banquets unsupervised by roaming eyes, Platan is a bit of a warren. I managed to get completely lost until an insightful waiter pointed me to the main area and I ordered a take-away dinner. The food was satisfyingly delicious and the price was agreeable for being such a posh spot.
Never shy of fawning over a golden, crispy, hot Somsa.. again my hotel boss came to the rescue and chauffered me here for a slap-up lunch. Locals were all wondering what the hell a heathen was doing in their flaky abode, but I hid in the corner and stuffed my face mercilessly with paper thin wraps of delicately spiced meaty penance. Track this place down or may the Gods deal with you suitably.
cafe inn ($)
Run and owned by a cheery bugger who lived in London for many years, this place has decent coffee and since his past lives include having been a chef, he is up for recommending some spots nearby for a decent nosh.
Places of interest
Simply put: One of the most magical squares on planet earth. To walk around here alone under the crawling dusk was utterly amazing.
Just a skip and a jump away from Registan, is this impressive mausoleum of Amir Temur.
samarkand railway station
Even if you are not planning on taking a train, buy a ticket to somewhere cheap and bask away in this insanely beautiful station. Grab a coffee and allow your camera to whimper enigmatically.
Between Siab Market and Registan is this impressive mosque. My advice is to sit where I was when I took this photo at the Art Cafe and have a tea while gazing at splendour.
A veritable scrum of vegetable-spices-bread orgies, this local haunt is well worth tracking down for a glimpse into a relatively normal day for most Samarkandians.
Curved like a slender serpent between the arching backs of a colossal cemetery, this parade of glorious tombs and houses is a delight to behold. If you are feeling cheap and don't want to splurge on entrance fee, then enter the cemetery to the right and climb the hill for amazing views on the whole complex along the Eastern wall.
For me Samarkand was not only home to some of the best food I ate in Uzbekistan, but the people were really friendly and hospitable.
Would recommend some days spent here for sure, don't just rush through....
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively