Monday, July 19, 2010

Markets and food

Since my adventures in previous days are somewhat modest -restricted to watching such cinematic masterpieces as Kick Ass, and the often underestimated Hot tub time machine- it might be a good moment to talk about food.

Last Sunday we visited the main market here in Urgench, where I was impressed with the sheer variety of vegetables, herbs, and fruits. Not all of those I ever recognized on my plate, but the food is nevertheless varied, though hearty on average. Influences from Russia and Ukraine can be discerned in soups, potatoes, cabbage, pancakes and certain noodles, but combinations of pasta and potatoes are variously ascribed to Kazakh, Karakalpakstani [just to the north], and Uygur cuisine. Groups of Uygurs moved from western China to these areas for reasons unknown to me. Koreans arriving after the war in the fifties, left their mark, so our Russian cook at the office effortlessly makes an excellent noodle soup, and soy sauce has its place on many tables. Tatars brought here under Stalin [under the motto 'this is where you came from'] imported, among other things, the cheburek, a deep- fried delicacy, a pastry filled with meat, onions and spices. I heard about Greek, Jewish, Armenian dishes, due to diaspora's old and recent, but I didn't discover those yet. And of course, there is the omnipresent shaslik, skewered ground meat grilled over charcoal, a Georgian specialty. Turkish kebap seems to be a recent arrival.

With all the allure of multi- ethnic post- Soviet cuisine, we should not forget about the more traditional regional foods. Walnuts and apples probably came from here, spread east and west along the Silk Roads. Rice arrived from China, and became the main ingredient for plov, widely acknowledged as the national dish. Rice, carrots, meat, generously sprinkled with cumin, sometimes also coriander and parsley, blend exquisitely. Eggplant appears in many dishes, as do tomatoes, onions, beans in all sizes, colors and tastes -see the market picture on top. Samsa is another pastry, filled with meat and onions, baked in a small clay oven -tandir- that also serves to bake flatbreads. Most homes have their own clay oven, in the garden, as shown in this picture, taken in Ashirmat. Manti, pasta pockets filled with meat, boiled quickly, can be found across Central Asia, in many variations.


  1. I am not an expert, but Samsa sounds like Samosa, although Indians fry them, not bake. Tandir sounds like Tandoori. I should look for recipes for plov--I cook those ingredients for different dishes a lot.

  2. I asked some people here about Indian connections, but they all loudly deny
    Still,as you say, there seems to be some relation. Maybe more comes up...
    Also several yoghurt sauces, like in Indian cuisine...In Georgia, on the other hand, they claimed very strong affinity with Indian food,seemed a little far- fetched there...

  3. All this talk about making me hungry. I miss your cooking, honey.

  4. You know better than me that it's possible there are one or two more steps to connect the cuisine to Indian. We also don't have to assume the directions. The Indian subcontinent has absorbed many foreign cultures in many hundreds of years. The language similarities, though, may be easier to trace the root.

  5. Double check. Probably tandoori has more a western (to India) influence. By Persians or Muslims:
    Samsa and samosa may actaully be the same thing: We claim it sounds like Indian because we have eaten more Indian and met more Indians. Who knows? Maybe the hisotry of these food is longer in Uzbekistan, or not. Baked samsa sounds healthier then deep fried samosa. The Korean influence: do they serve kim-chi? East Asian serve many noodle soups with pork or pork product. What do your cook put in his noodle soup?

  6. Damn, this is high level food science...
    In the soup no pork, cf Muslim country.
    But yes, it sounds like there was a step in between. Thanks for investigating