There are many international restaurants in Uzbekistan, especially in Tashkent, which offer various types of European/American cuisine, as well as Asian specialties from Japan, Korea, China and India. There are fast food outlets, but also elegant restaurants that offer fine dining of the highest quality. There are, too, restaurants that specialise in the dishes of Uzbekistan’s numerous ethnic groups ‒ Uighur, Russian, Jewish to name but a few. Wines, imported and local are served in most places. The best known Uzbek labels are sweet dessert wines, but dry wines are becoming more popular. Other beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are widely available. The national drink is tea, black or green, depending on time of year and location (in Tashkent, for example, black tea is usually preferred, whereas elsewhere this is regarded as more of a winter drink). Uzbek tea is much more than a beverage: it is a tonic that offers sustenance, refreshment and relaxation; above all, it is a mark of hospitality, offered to guests as soon as they arrive. It is consumed at the beginning of the meal, during the meal and at the end of the meal. Coffee is available but for locals it is no substitute for tea.
The other great culinary delight is Uzbek plov (also known as osh, which is also the general term for ‘food’ ‒ an indication of how important this dish is). It is similar to the pilaf of Iran, Pakistan or India, but with its own distinctive cooking methods and flavours. The basic ingredients are rice (though there are many varieties of rice and each region has its own favourite type), meat (generally mutton), carrots and onions; other vegetables, dried fruits and flavourings may be added according to local traditions and the inclination of the chef. The dish is cooked slowly in a single pot. For major celebrations, a huge cauldron is used and a master chef oversees the process, finely judging the exact moment to add this or that ingredient. The quantities are enormous – on major occasions, there may be several hundred guests to feed!!!
Another favourite dish is shashlik ‒ like the kebab in Iran or the Indian sub-continent, it consists of chunks of meat or patties of minced meat cooked on a skewer over an open fire. Other national specialities include shurpa – a rich consommé-type broth made from meat or chicken; various noodle-based dishes (such as lagman or norin); and delicious dumplings stuffed with meat or pumpkin (somsa or manti). There are some local sweetmeats, but the best end to a sumptuous meal is a beautifully prepared platter of fresh fruits.
The real glory of Uzbek gastronomy is its own cuisine. The preparation and consumption of food is an integral part of local culture and tradition. Special dishes are prepared for national holidays such as Nauruz (New Year), as well as for family or communal events such as weddings, circumcision feasts, and funeral wakes. Portions tend to be large but as the ingredients are fresh and not a great deal of fat is used, the food is generally easy to digest. The essential element of any meal is bread, known as non. This is not a boring, factory-produced loaf, but a fragrant flat roundel, eaten fresh from the oven. Every region, and many a township, has its own bread recipe and specific decorative patterns. When Uzbeks from Tashkent visit Samarkand, for example, they will usually take home bagfuls of the famous Samrkandi non to share with family and friends.