Eating Our Way Across the ‘Stans — A Farm to Table Adventure

by Rikki Quintana November 17, 2022

Eating Our Way Across the ‘Stans — A Farm to Table Adventure

 

I love food, but I’m not a true “foodie.” I rarely take photos of food for social media (though my daughter and I do exchange text photos of extra-indulgent desserts). I don’t collect recipes because I rarely cook these days. But food is such an integral part of any travel experience that I thought you would enjoy this “food tour” of Central Asia—incomplete as it may be.

The photos included in this blog are a subset of my favorite food-related photos that I couldn’t resist taking along the way in our 3 ‘Stans Tour last month. I meant to collect additional food photos last week when my friend and fellow 3 ‘Stans Tour participant Nancy Dunitz and I were together in Seattle for the American Anthropological Association annual meeting. (Nancy is the founder of Dunitz & Company, another fair trade business working with artisans in Guatemala.)

But I forgot! So you’ll only get my own food photos. But they should give you a “taste” of Central Asia, though they are arranged thematically rather than geographically.

Everywhere we traveled, fresh salads were a part of every lunch and dinner, whether served in a high end restaurant or a more humble family-owned homestay. It was a “farm to table” delight.

 

Fresh salads everywhere! Sometimes three or four varieties at the same meal.


In addition to lettuce and other greens, carrots and beets were popular salad ingredients. The dressing was typically oil-based, freshly made of course.


Carrots at the local market. Yellow carrots are very common.


We also enjoyed many freshly made soups, like the delicious noodle-based Uzbek soup below. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the name of the soup! And remember, this was often just a “starter” course!


Exploring the local markets was always fun and food-filled. The Chorsu bazaar in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and the Panjshambe Market in Khujand, Tajikistan stand out for their size and huge variety.
 

Chorsu Bazaar from the “balcony” level. Much of the market actually extends well beyond the booths under the dome.
 

Chorsu fruit section. Note the orange-colored lemons! And the imported kiwi fruit. (Bananas are imported from Ecuador.)
 
  
Fresh pomegranates at Chorsu Bazaar
 

One of our tour participants was particularly adventurous and tried some fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, sold at a sidewalk stand outside one of our lunch restaurants.

 

Even more delicious were the fruits picked fresh in front of us.

 

Picking fresh pears at a home garden in Khujand.

 

Incredible fresh berries served for dessert at a homestay in Kyrgyzstan.

 

Spices were always a photographer’s dream at the markets.

 

Quail eggs sold alongside chicken eggs at the markets.

 

Panjshambe Bazaar in Khujand

 

Meat was always on the menu for lunch and dinner. Our tour guides explained that “real men” in Central Asia eat meat! For most of us on the tour, we probably ate more “red meat” (typically beef or lamb/mutton) in 3 weeks than we consume in several months at home.

 

Munira Akilova (our primary guide in Tajikistan) and my friend Nancy enjoying yet another delicious meal with lots of meat in Khujand.

 

“Plov” (sometimes called “osh” or “oshi pilov”) was one of the entrees served across the ‘Stans. Every city and region will assure you that THEIR plov is the best. They all share the characteristics of being a pilaf-style rice (often cooked in huge pots) topped with vegetables and meat. Don’t tell my friends in Central Asia, but I’m not sure I could choose a favorite! It’s all delicious.

 

Plov being prepared at a famous plov restaurant in Uzbekistan.

 

Plov (on the left) is often served with tiny quail eggs. I never knew I liked them!

 

And those of you who have been on my mailing list for a while know that the “non” or bread of Central Asia is a top food group for me. My favorite is fresh out of the oven. It’s always served broken rather than sliced, and typically someone at the table will tear up the first big round into pieces for the others at the table.

 

A stack of fresh-baked non for lunch!

 

Torn, never sliced!

 

 

In Khujand, we visited the bread-baking streets just outside the Panjshambe market and were able to observe the process. There's nothing quite as yummy as fresh-baked bread straight out of the oven.   And the delicious smell accompanied us for many blocks!

 

Bread baking inside the traditional tanur oven, plastered to the walls of the oven.


As we traveled the highways of the ‘Stans, we also encountered many roadside food stands and saw food on its way to market.


We stopped to sample this delicious fresh corn on the cob.

 

Potatoes on their way to market.

 

A roadside fruit stand in Tajikistan. Tajikistan grows many varieties of apples.

 

Hard dried cheese found along the roadside in Tajikistan—very salty and not a taste that appeals to most Americans.

 

One of our favorite “food days” was the day we spend visiting the village of Madm, about 1.5 hours from Panjakent.

We began the day with a lunch feast served at the local homestay.

 

Note that the spread included fresh yoghurt soup, nuts, fresh fruit, homemade halva, salads and more.

 

After textile demos and village exploration, we had our cooking class on “samsas”—little filled pies that we helped prepare. Mostly, we did the chopping, the village ladies prepared the delicious pastry dough and Munira did the seasoning. But we counted it a great success, creating pumpkin squash, greens and meat-filled pies that we devoured for dinner.

 

 

 

Our delicious samsas!

 

Aren’t they beautiful!?

But I can’t wrap this up without acknowledging that we also enjoyed a lot of “international ethnic” food along our journey. Central Asia continues to be very multi-ethnic, and that shows up in the food as well.  We had one meal at an ethnic Chinese family’s home in Kyrgyzstan, another at a Uighur (Turkik-speaking Chinese) family home.

 

Ethnic Chinese lunch, served with chopsticks.

 

Uighur dinner-starter course.

 

We spent the night at a homestay owned by an ethnic Russian family that has lived in Kyrgyzstan for several generations. Their fare included borsht, incredibly delicious fresh-picked berries from their gorgeous garden, a souffle omelette for breakfast, and some fabulous pastries!

 

Breakfast at the ethnic Russian homestay.

 

We also enjoyed some excellent pizza in Uzbekistan (presented as a “taste of home” by our tour guide), and our last night of the tour was a Korean banquet in Bishkek. (Sorry, I couldn’t find any good photos of the pizza or the Korean food.)

I’m now on the hunt for recipes that have been adapted for ingredients generally available in the US and Canada. Stay tuned for more on food down the road.

I hope this little food tour excited your taste buds about the possibility of traveling to the ‘Stans in the not-too-distant future!




Rikki Quintana
Rikki Quintana

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