Uzbekistan: Exploring Culture Through Cuisine
A food tour to an Unusual Destination in Central Asia
By Mary Govoni
The Uzbekistan food tour, “Exploring Backstreets and Bazaars” takes its guests through the authentic experience of celebrating Navruz, the Uzbek New Year, amongst the locals. The Uzbeks exercise their abundant hospitality as they welcome the guests into their homes and communities.
Navruz is one of the most highly celebrated holidays in Uzbekistan which highlights the Uzbek culture and its traditions. Today, Navruz is celebrated each year on March 21, when the sun enters the sign of Aries on the astrological calendar.
In the northern hemisphere, this date frequently coincides with the spring equinox, the day on which the number of daylight hours equals the number of nighttime hours. In order to truly understand the way Navruz is meant is meant to be celebrated, one must spend it with the Uzbek locals.
Locals to Chat With
The locals are here to chat with -- guests are free to ask questions and listen to stories from Uzbeks that want to learn from the guests as well.
Together, the group shares these traditional meals, while guests are introduced to the unique Central Asian flavors.
Travelers are invited to join Caroline Eden, a world renowned travel, culture, and food writer as she explores the streets of many of Uzbekistan’s most celebrated oases.
During the tour, stop at several places along the Silk Road, Bukhara, Khiva, and Samarkand, along with the modern capital of Tashkent.
And along the way, you’ll be introduced to the exciting culinary flavors of traditional Uzbekistan cooking.
The Heart and Soul of the Silk Road
Uzbekistan is the heart and soul of the Silk Road. The Silk Road is known as a network of trade routes which connected regions of the ancient world in commerce. It was established during the Han Dynasty in China.
Uzbekistan is a country renowned for its incredible mazes of exotic architecture and gorgeous decorative art. Alongside these picturesque views, Uzbekistan culture is one that is rooted in timeless tradition and a unique history.
This Uzbekistan food tour is offered as a package through the MIR Corporation, a leading company in pioneering travel to destinations at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.
MIR, from the Russian word meaning both “peace” and “world,” provides intrepid travelers exotic journeys and unexpected adventures in some of the planet’s most under-explored and challenging places.
A Travel Writer Guide
The tour guide, Caroline Eden, is a regular contributor to the travel and food pages of The Guardian, The Telegraph, Financial Times and other publications as well as having a weekly column in London’s Metro newspaper.
Eden specializes her travel opportunities on emerging destinations, such as Uzbekistan. Eden’s others tours include trips to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Haiti and Bangladesh.
Her first published book. titled Samarkand, includes stories and recipes of Central Asia.
MIR Corporation has scheduled to begin its first Uzbekistan food tour in March of 2017. It is a ten-day trip, available to 16 individuals and accommodations are in charming, well-located and often locally owned hotels and B&Bs.
Both of these qualities keep the tour efficient, authentic, and intimate.
Tour members are welcomed into the homes of Uzbek locals to share traditions.
The tour begins in Tashkent, the country’s capital city, where guests are introduced to the Square of Independence, the Kukeldash Madrassah, and traditional, medieval Islamic architecture.
There is an opportunity to visit the local bazaar in Tashkent, and a special lunch with Bahriddin Chustiy, a world renowned Uzbek chef. The first two days are filled with history, sights, and culture, all of which only continue to come.
On the third day, the group relocates via a flight to Khiva, an ancient city that maintains its authenticity on the Old Silk Road. Here guests can see the original residence of the Khans, a UNESCO world heritage site known as Kunya Ark.
Stops in Khiva also include the Kyzyl Desert and the Amu Darya, where guests are offered stunning views of Uzbekistan’s deserts and rivers.
When guests arrive in Bukhara, another Old Town ancient city, they are introduced to over 140 protected monuments and the history to which they encompass.
Here, guests are encouraged to take part in the traditional Navruz ceremonies known as Muchal Tuy and Sallabandon Tuy. A traditional Navruz dinner follows the ceremony which brings in the Uzbek New Year.
In the following days, guests explore the Narzulaev family ceramics shop, the Bibi Khanum Mosque, and the majestic Registan Square. This public square was the heart of this ancient city during the Timurid Dynasty.
People would gather at the Registan to hear royal proclamations, as well as witness public executions. It is renowned for its three madrasahs, column-like, Islamic architectural features.
Lessons are offered here to make traditional bread at a local and favorite Uzbek bakery, as well as a master class in making plov, a traditional Uzbekistan signature dish.
Enjoying Plov, the National Dish
Plov, also referred to as palov, is typically made with rice, different types of meat, grated carrots, and onions. It is cooked using a kazan, a large thin cooking pot which sits over an open fire. Almost Uzbek family has their own plov recipe, adding variations such as chickpeas, raisins, barberries or fruits.
In the final days of the tour, a festive farewell lunch is held for the parting guests. The celebration of the holiday ends with the opportunity to explore the labyrinth of shops offering textiles and clothing, as well as the opportunity to watch a match of buzkashi, an ancient Central Asian recreational activity.
Guests end their tour with a deeper understanding of Uzbekistan’s history, traditions, beauties, and its culture.
They also leave with a few new recipes and a much more eclectic taste for Central Asian cuisine.
The combination of Caroline Eden’s expertise and the collaboration with MIR Corporation combines a unique opportunity to experience authentic culture of an up and coming country.
The Uzbekistan food tour, “Exploring Backstreets and Bazaars”
Check out Caroline Eden's book Samarkand: Recipes & Stories from Central Asia & The Caucasus
Mary Govoni is a freelance writer from Cape Cod, Mass. She loves traveling to find food, good conversation and good company.