Because Central Asia was a hub of the Silk Road, many of the spices we associate with India, Persia the Middle East or China have made their way into the cuisine, such as coriander, black pepper and cumin. The presentation and the flavors are also blended with a traditional nomadic diet, and the result is something distinctly Central Asian.
Uzbek food is colorful, hearty and healthy. Poultry and meat, (mostly sheep and lamb) are eaten.
Kebabs with fries are practically ubiquitous. Yogurt and white cheese are abundant, and are served up with a variety of fresh herbs like basil and dill.
Noodles and rice are staples. In warm weather, harvest fruits and vegetables abound, and all kinds of lovely salads, cooked, raw and marinated, adorn the table. Bread is important, and is generally disk-shaped with a design stamped into the center, and sometimes a sprinkling of seeds scattered over the top. Because of the esteem in which bread is held, one never cuts it with a knife, but tears it into pieces by hand. Just about every cuisine has a dumpling, and the Uzbek kitchen is no exception; in this case these are called Manti, meat dumplings, and every daughter is expected to know how to make them if she is to be considered good wife material!
Of course the grand dish all Uzbeks love, and the one that is served for all special occasions, is Plov, and here it is the men who hold court. For while you may see women carefully cutting yellow carrots, onions and meat for the Plov it is the man of the house who will actually cook it. It seems that every Uzbek man claims to have his own secret recipe, and since Plov is after all pilaf with another name, many variations are possible in both ingredients and procedure. But at the heart of it all, is rice, meat, fat, onions and carrots.
Regional variations may contain dried fruit, or spices, and different meats such as horsemeat and poultry. Presentations can be basic, served from the cauldron, with the plov simply dished onto a plate, or spectacular, brought to the table with the meats piled high atop a dome of rice, crowned by small game birds, and each topped with a tiny cooked egg!
In the main cities of Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva you will find many wonderful restaurants that serve both traditional and "nouvelle" Uzbek food. Café society as we know it may not be traditional in Central Asia, but the typical "inner courtyard" is the Central Asian equivalent of "en plein air" --just less public! The following eateries get our vote for their fine food, cleanliness, good service and décor:
Tashkent – Karavan: walk into a lovely open air central courtyard where you can dine, or take the stairs to the roofed balcony that overlooks the courtyard. There is also a small gallery that sells high quality crafts and textiles.
Central Asian Plov Center: no argument that this is THE place to go for Plov. Huge cauldrons greet the visitor, and they turn out massive amounts of plov every day. No frills, and no booze, but oh, the Plov!
Afsona: A quietly elegant restaurant with a refined approach to re-inventing traditional Uzbek dishes. Full bar and open-view kitchen.
Samarkand – Just across the road from Registan square is Registan restaurant, so for the tourist, it is most convenient. The food is also very good.
Karimbek is a two level catering hall, capable of feeding very large groups efficiently and well. Serving a combination of European (read: Russian) and Central Asian food it is extremely popular with tourists and locals, especially later in the evening when the entertainment begins.
Besh Chinor – well respected by tourists and locals alike, serves up reliable Uzbek food in pleasant atmosphere.
Bukhara – Olmos restaurant – reports are good about this restaurant located 10 minutes from the old city,
Minzifa, Doston and Dolon: The big attraction in all these restaurants is the terrace dining, where you can sit and enjoy a view of the old city at sunset. But if possible, make reservations in advance, the terraces fill up very quickly
There is also a branch of Karavan here.
Zarafshan - Set in the courtyard of a 19th century madrassah, and named for its female owner, this well established tea house has grown into a respected restaurant, and has very authentic ambience, good service, with inside and courtyard dining.