Perhaps more famous for it's silk road connection, and the fabled cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, than it's food; I made it my mission to not get dragged down by continuous plates of Plov, and to at least find the best damn one in Uzbekistan. My two week trip happened to coincide with the first known cases of Coronavirus in the country, so things changed quickly from lackadaisical holidaying to seriously planning escape routes and pure undisplayed panic.
Before the crisis hit boiling point, I had managed to get a few cities and sights under my belt without the incessant swarm of tourists. Something I can be eternally grateful for. First up was the nations capital, Tashkent, a city I only knew because of various TV shows centering around the majestic Hotel Uzbekistan. If i'm being transparent, it was pretty much the only thing I cared about seeing in the city before hitting the road.
Coincidentally, I did manage to find a few other sights to spark interest, and some of the best restaurants in Tashkent.
places to eat
This behemoth of a restaurant mirrors the Tashkent Circus building opposite. Housed inside (and outside) is a veritable army barracks of edibles. From the soup counter on the street bubbling over, to the somsa window, the pastry tent and the gigantic simmering cauldrons of various stomach reliefs, think of it as a museum of all things Uzbek. A great place to start off your culinary adventure in the country, tho you will find better versions of each dish elsewhere it's a good place to kick into gear.
central asian plov centre
My second stop in Tashkent, and I see a pattern emerging. Yet again, I entered into a restaurant the size of a football stadium. Surely this place could seat 2000 easily. The tables were utterly packed with familes and friends famishingly stuffing spoonfuls of plov into their gold-laden mouths, pouring cheeky vodkas under the table into shaking cups. Thankfully a local who spoke english directed me to one of 8 huge plov stalls, and recommended I tried his favourite one first.
Plov is generally not that exciting a dish. Rice drenched with sheeps fat, some carrots, chillis perhaps, all thrown into a pot and steamed. It tasted fine, but I get the feeling quantity and not quality is the drawing point here.
Mr Bourdain ate here. So did probably 90% of all tourists who passed through Tashkent. I can see the appeal of this place more on the way back after having Plov-ed your way through the entire nation, to come here and eat a quasi-Asian meal must feel like being dropped in a harem after ten years in solitary. Truth be told, the somsa here were really tasty, the asian noodle soup I had was very heavy on the vinegar.
If, like me, you just spent the better part of an hour photographing the Hotel Uzbekistan from every angle imaginable, and worked up a caffeine shortage, then this is a 200 meter walk away. Small areas fenced off by bookshelves, decent coffee, and wifi. It's just what the doctor ordered.
taskhent subway system
Eternally grateful that I managed to book my tickets when I did, I avoided the whole shutdown period that was to come and was afforded an entire afternoon to spend rummaging around the metro stations. If you haven't considered an afternoon spent taking trains all over the town an interesting choice of your tourist dollar, think again. Tashkents stations range from palatial to minimalist to gawdy affairs dripping chandeliers. Grab yourself a map, buy a token, and spend a couple of hours seeing these majestic stations for yourself.
Not of the club able to squander a weeks budget to lie in it's presidential cottons, I had to make do with photographs from the outside. A symbol of the city for many, a photographers dream being a model that doesn't answer back, no visit to Tashkent.. and all that jazz.
A perfect walk after having lunch at National Food, is to cross over past the Circus and then walk over to this mosque before continuing on to Chorsu Market.
Sprawling outwards from the "head" like living tentacles, the many lanes of this market shuffle into alleys and dead ends beyond the reach of the Mother. The Mother being the central meat/cheese/pasta market, domed in regal beauty and shading the interiors from the midday harshness.
To be honest, Tashkent was far from being a city worth recommending. I secretly hoped the next few places on the list were going to far outshine it, and thankfully, they did.
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
"Sadness is tempered by umami, grief by the motion of slurping, hope restored in the ladling of glistening, fatty broth"
CITIES / Places