We are excited to introduce you to the national Uzbekistan obsession which is PLOV.
Written By: Marlie Long Last Updated: July 2020
Oh comfort food, you know those types of food that satisfy your soul but maybe not your waistline but who cares because you feel like you’re being hugged by a loved one. Comfort food is different for everyone, mostly depending on where you grew up or live. Here at The MarRid Life, our minds immediately wander to hearty stews, thick soups, pot pies, and big bowls of pasta. However, being in Central Asia where the cultures are a dash of Asian, a splash of Russian, and a pinch of Middle Eastern, we were excited to experience a whole new slew of comfort foods done Uzbek style.
Although Uzbekistan is a fairly new country, gaining its independence from the USSR in August 1991 right before the USSR dissolved, it has quickly gained more traction with the tourism industry due to its impressive ancient Islamic architecture, which is characterized by its grandeur – buildings tiled with blues, greens, purples, and white in intricate patterns and designs. In addition to the stunning architecture, the Uzbek people are incredibly warm, welcoming, usually with a huge pot of tea and little delicacies, and can cook an unforgettable meal.
If you’re glancing over a local Uzbek menu, you’ll likely see shashlyk (grilled meats, including lamb, beef, or chicken), samsas (the precursor to the Indian samosa filled either with juicy meats and onions or pumpkin), manti (boiled Turkish dumplings), achichiq chuchuk (tomato and onion salad), khleb (bread cooked in traditional clay ovens), and of course, plov.
What is plov you say?? Well, plov wears the CROWN of Uzbek comfort food, actually some might even go as far as to say plov is a national OBSESSION. In its basic essence, plov is a rice pilaf dish made using a layer technique in a cauldron that consists of long grain rice cooked with oil and broth, onions and carrots, meat, usually mutton, or beef but sometimes even chicken, and also sometimes includes certain types of dried fruits, such as raisins or apricots, or quail eggs, depending on the region you’re in.
We were in Uzbekistan for two weeks, and I think between us we ate plov around ten times across the six cities we visited. Each city has its own rendition of the beloved national dish, but our favorite plov was at Doston House restaurant in Bukhara (Kokill Kalon Str 5, Bukhara, Uzbekistan). This restaurant is primarily set up for large tour groups but we were lucky that we showed up right as it opened and they sat us in a small table right in front of the cooking demonstration station – SCORE! The restaurant is a bit tricky to find as it is a short walk from the center of the old town down a dirt alley-type road off the main street that is not very well lit nor signposted. However, when you arrive at the restaurant you will see a beautifully ornate door, which isn’t the best descriptors as most doors are gorgeously carved in Uzbekistan, but this door will stick out on this street.
The inside of the restaurant is actually a courtyard where the walls of the building are decorated with traditional geometric paintings and pottery in a beautiful array of colors (my personal favorite is the deep cobalt blue!). The fun part of this restaurant is that it really is dinner and a show as an Uzbek woman shows you how to cook plov in the traditional oven and the correct layering technique to ensure all the ingredients are cooked to perfection. But before the demonstration begins, they start off the meal with a bunch of little appetizer-style dishes that include savory pastries, dips, and salads, which was a generous start to an already filling meal.
Here’s a friendly tip – if you don’t want to stuffed to the gills or don’t feel like walking for a while after dinner go light on these starting dishes, especially the khleb (bread). Now that we’ve warned you, we will say it is a A LOT harder than it looks cause everything is DELISH! After munching on the appies for a bit, the demonstration will begin of how to carefully concoct your giant bowl of plov over the clay oven – in a nut shell, you cook the meat and veggies in fat first, then layer your rice over and add water and/or stock, then cover to let it steam and viola! Our cooking demonstration even came with a sultry Uzbek lady who not only cooks amazing plov but can definitely strike a pose.
After 45 minutes of cooking, the plov was finally ready, and while it may seem like a long drawn out dinner you will totally forget the time and feel right in pilaf heaven. This plov really stood out as the best we ate whilst in Uzbekistan because it had the perfect balance of being moist and well cooked without being overly greasy, which can happen due to cooking the meat and veggies in fat before adding the rice. Also, this plov had dried apricots and raisins which added subtle sweet flavor every couple of bites and helped to cut through the richness of the dish. The final cherry on top with the inclusion of little quail eggs that added a nice earthy tone but let’s be honest, they were just so stinking cute.
So there you have it! The best thing we ate in Uzbekistan was plov and specifically the plov at Doston House in Bukhara. You have to check this place out after a long day sightseeing as you will feel comforted in true Uzbek style!!