Central Asia food report!

I’ve returned from a 2-week trip to Central Asia! I spent a week in Uzbekistan and a week in Kyrgyzstan, eating some of the foods I write about on this blog. Prior to this trip, it had been 8 years since I was last in Central Asia (in Xinjiang) so it was good to eat some old favorites and try some new foods.

Plov
Uzbekistan is the motherland of plov and it did not disappoint in this regard! I ate plov in every city I visited – Khiva, Samarkand, Bukhara. Each region has its own plov variety, which I found really interesting as there is basically only one variant of plov(or “polo”) in Xinjiang. The Uzbek plov was generally oilier than mine, and their rice grain is different. I had been using basmati, but in Uzbekistan they use a thicker, rounder grain of rice, almost like risotto or Japanese sushi rice. Here’s my plov recipe.

bukhara_plov2
bukhara_plov1
Plov in Bukhara.

samarkand_plov
Plov in Samarkand. Note the chickpeas and how all the elements (rice, carrots, meat) are separate.

khiva_plov
Plov in Khiva. Note how the rice is all white.

Laghman
Finally, to eat laghman made by someone other than myself! While Indian biryani or even Turkish pilaf has some resemblance to plov, there’s basically nothing like laghman to be found in the West. I keep cooking and cooking laghman at home, and after 8 years away from Central Asia, sometimes began to wonder if anyone else on earth eats this dish. Here is my Uyghur lagman recipe.

bukhara_laghman
Uyghur-style laghman at Chinar restaurant in Bukhara

kovurma_lagman
Kovurma laghman at Besh Chinor restaurant in Samarkand

The traditional Uzbek lagman is more like a noodle soup with all sorts of vegetables and potatoes in it. It’s often flavored with dill. However, they do have other varieties of lagman like “kovurma lagman”, which resembles the Uyghur version (noodles with a sauce on top), and many restaurants sell Uyghur-style laghman as well. I personally much prefer my laghman with a sauce topping rather than in a soup.

osh_laghman
Guiru laghman at an Uyghur restaurant in Osh.

bishkek_lagman
Guiru laghman in Bishkek.

I was pleasantly surprised by the food in Kyrgyzstan, at least in the cities. While the traditional Kyrgyz food might not be that exciting, due to their location in between Uzbekistan and China they have some great restaurants serving Uzbek, Uyghur, and Dungan cuisine. The laghman was great, and actually surprisingly similar to the one I cook at home. Of course, since my own recipe comes from an Uyghur chef from Bishkek, perhaps it’s not so surprising.

Manti
A staple of our travels! This is one dish I rarely make at home because it’s just so time consuming; plus it’s easy to just buy frozen dumplings from the Chinese grocery even if they aren’t the same thing. But Central Asian manti are really quite special, especially with some yogurt sauce. Chuchvara soup is even more time consuming; I admit I’ve only done it myself once because it takes so long to fold all those tiny dumplings. Here is my manti recipe.

khiva_manti

samarkand_manti

Meat
In Kyrgyzstan I ate a dish called “kuurdak” which is very similar to “kazan kebab”(I haven’t posted the recipe yet). Basically roasted meat with potatoes. It’s rather oily, but very tasty.

kuurdak
Kuurdak at an Uyghur restaurant in Osh.

I also ate plenty of shashlik/kebabs in Uzbekistan. Here’s a meal from a rest stop in the middle of the Kyzyl Kum desert on the road from Khiva to Bukhara. For being in the middle of a desert, they had surprisingly good food.

shashlik_lunchShashlik lunch at a rest stop in the Kyzyl Kum desert

shashlik_samarkand
Shashlik at Besh Chinor restaurant in Samarkand

national_food
On the left, “hasip”, a type of Uzbek sausage; on the right, “naryn”, cold noodles with horse meat. At “Miliy taomlar”(National foods) in Tashkent.

Bread
In Uzbekistan they generally make a big, puffy, round sort of bread as opposed to the flat disc-shaped bread you see in Xinjiang. I bought myself some Uzbek bread stamps in Samarkand – a cooking tool almost impossible to find in the West, though you can order one at quite some cost from China – details in my nan bread recipe. I found them in the Siyob bazaar in Samarkand, sold for 10,000 som each (around $2.50 USD). Not really a common tourist souvenir so may be hard to find outside of a bazaar, although I remember seeing them being sold in Khiva as well.

samarkand_nan
Beautiful bread bought from Samarkand’s Siyob bazaar.

boor_sok
In Kyrgyzstan, they served a type of bread called “boor sok.” It’s little pockets of frybread, not unlike sopapillas. Very tasty. I’ll have to try making them at home.

uzbek_bread_stamp
Uzbek bread stamps.

gosh_nan
G
osh nan or Uyghur meat pie. Here’s my recipe.

Cold dishes/appetizers
At every meal, some type of salad was served, usually with the bread. Typically a simple salad from tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, and a pinch of salt, but sometimes flavored with some fresh herbs too. You can see the little salad in most of the pictures above.

ashlyanfu
Ashlyanfu at Arzu restaurant in Bishkek

I also got to try “Ashlyanfu”, which comes from Dungans (Chinese Central Asians). It’s a cold noodle soup with wheat noodles and mung bean jelly noodles. Sounds strange, but very good. I’ve yet to try making this one at home, maybe because it seems rather labor intensive (making the jelly noodles). In mainland China, they eat something similar called “liang pi”; I eat it sometimes at the Chinese places near my home.

Tea
uzbek_teapot

Naturally, green tea was served at every meal. Unlike in Xinjiang where people “wash” the tea bowls with some hot tea and then throw it out, in Uzbekistan they pour some tea into a bowl and then pour it back into the pot, sometimes multiple times. I picked up my own Uzbek teapot and tea bowls. They were selling all sorts of fancy elaborate porcelain in the tourist shops, but I really just wanted the same exact blue and white teapot that appears in almost every restaurant in Uzbekistan (it makes an appearance in a few of the pictures above). Luckily I found them in Siyob bazaar in Samarkand for cheap – a teapot and four bowls was around 25,000 som or $6 USD.

Hope you enjoyed the photos – I’ll try to get back to posting recipes soon.

Beshbarmak – Central Asian Nomad “Lasagna”

Beshbarmak_1
My version of beshbarmak.

Beshbarmak looks like something a nomadic horseman would eat: wide pasta topped with big hunks of meat and onion. It doesn’t look particularly appetizing. But believe me when I say it is something special.

I added bell pepper to my version to give it some color, but it is entirely superfluous. The magic is in the rich, savory meat broth and the tender pasta sheets. My wife, upon seeing it for the first time, called it an “open-faced lasagna.”

Beshbarmak as served in Kazakhstan. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Beshbarmak literally means “five fingers” due to the way it used to be eaten. It originates from the nomadic peoples of Central Asia, and nowadays this type of dish is enjoyed all across the region: as beshbarmak by the Kazakhs, Kygryz, Tatars, and Bashkirs, as turama or dograma in Karakalpakstan and Turkmenistan, and naryn by the Uyghurs. Truly a pan-Central Asian dish!

Traditionally, beshbarmak is cooked with all sorts of different lamb and horse meat cuts, as well as kazy (horse meat sausage). I have a hard enough time finding lamb meat here in NYC, so I just used lamb shoulder chops. It would work well with beef, too.

My version is a little different from the traditional dish. Traditionally, the meat is boiled (I sautee it then simmer) and there are no vegetables other than onion. I was inspired by this Uyghur video which is actually for a different dish entirely. Stalic has a video for beshbarmak, as does Abdulaziz Salavat (both videos in Russian). The Russian Wikipedia article for Beshbarmak has everything you would want to know about its etymology and its different national variants.

Ingredients:
Flour
Egg
Salt
Oil
Lamb meat
Onion
Cumin seed
Bullion cubes/powder
White or black pepper
Bell pepper (entirely optional)

Directions:
Noodle making
1. Make a dough out of flour, egg, salt, water, and a bit of oil. Knead for 10 minutes and set aside, covered. Let it rest for at least half an hour.

2. Roll the dough into a cylinder and use a knife to cut off a small piece. Lightly oil the piece.
CutDough

3. Use a rolling pin to flatten out the piece into a big, thin, pasta sheet. Continue until you’ve used all the dough. Make sure to space out the pieces so they don’t stick together.
RollDoughPieces

4. Bring some water to a rolling boil, lightly salt, and put in the beshbarmak pieces one by one. After the water has returned to a rolling boil, let it cook for another 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the noodles – you want them al dente.
CookNoodles

5. Drain the noodles and rinse them with cold water. Layer the noodles in a plate.
PlateNoodles

Making the topping
1. Sautee the lamb meat in oil over medium-high heat until browned.

CookMeat
2. Add in the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add salt, cumin seeds, and white or black pepper. Mix well.

CookOnion
3. Add bouillon/water until the contents are barely covered.
4. When it starts to boil, turn the heat to low and cover. Cook for at least 30 minutes.
CookBroth

5. Open the lid and add in the bell pepper. Cook this briefly over medium heat.

AddBellpepper
6. Pour some hot broth over the noodles to warm them up. Put the topping on the noodles. Ash bolsun!

Beshbarmak