Plov, if you are starving hungry, is probably the dish for you, Lil writes; Heaps of rice boiled in fatty stock with a few carroty bits and bobs added and a generous portion of fatty meat plonked on top. In Uzbekistan it’s the national dish, people love it. Across Krygistan, Uzbekistan and wherever else the silk route led, Plov was the national dish.
Our first Plov took place in Osh, Krygistan. If we had stuck to the rule about not eating street food we would have gone hungry. The venue was a shed beside the butchers. There was an improvised BBQ and several tables with benches. Two smiling women supervised piles of bread and pastries with who knows what inside them. At the time we were completely ignorant but soon we learnt that the sign of a basin was the indicator that the place was a restaurant. The basin doesn’t have to be plumbed, cleaned or have running water. In this case it was free standing
Breakfast is breakfast, a delicate start to the day when one is at one’s most vulnerable. Now usually I stagger into the kitchen for an instant coffee and a bowl of muesli and I can manage toast and marmalade if its there. Before huntin’, shootin’ or fishin’ I can down fried eggs and bacon if I must, although normally this is eaten on return from the morning’s excursions. What I found difficult was to eat mashed potato, fried egg and frankfurter, sticky buns, pancakes, yogurt and sundry biscuits washed down with green tea
There are five basic ingredients going in Uzbekistan. Potatoes, onions, carrots, noodles/rice and gristly unidentifiable meat. If the heap of rice or noodles is above the water line it’s a main course but if it’s swimming in its own greasy pool, its soup. This we ate for lunch or dinner virtually every day for a month, always washed down with green tea. The variants were in Samarkand where we found a filthy sink in a courtyard (the sign of a good restaurant) and kebabs, salad and green tea for about 1500 som, about 30p.
There were two other exceptions to this dreary routine. Once, in Tashkent we went to a local eating house, families and parties munched away cheerfully. No menu but instead, one walked to the kitchen and chose from steaming vats. It was the ubiquitous plov with variations but the home cooking was delicious. The other unusual meal was a Cornish pasty eaten at a working man’s cafe amid upbeat shouts about Manchester United and Wayne Rooney.
Green tea; Morning, noon and night. Every meal was accompanied by it. Occasionally we bleated for wine but in a dry country it was hopeless. Success came in a Russian restaurant but otherwise it was just green tea. Sophie felt alcohol deprivation more than me and had bought a bottle of Baileys at the airport. She is a seasoned traveller, one can tell. So we shared an orange plastic mug of the Baileys Irish Cream in the evenings. When we were finished, she sought out a shop with alcohol under the counter and bought some fiery brandy for our evening tipple. I preferred the Baileys but gave the brandy ago.
My undying memory will be Sophie tucking in to rice pudding with a fried egg on top or buckwheat and potato fritters (cold) with fried egg on top with copious cups of green tea while I toy with some nasty stale bread and apricot jam. If you want a gastronomic holiday, stick to France or Italy, although I have eaten some pretty terrible meals there as well.