23 Sep Plov Center, Tashkent
I am so excited for the next few posts as I’m going to give you the low down on my holiday to Uzbekistan! Cue ancient madrasas, one of Central Asia’s largest music festivals and a nation obsessed with melons and bread. Mr Munch and I started in Tashkent before taking the train to historical Samarkand, then on to Bukhara (home of the blingiest minaret I’ve ever seen) and back to Tashkent from where we flew home. Keep an eye on #minnsmunchtime so you know when these city posts go live!
If you were to eat just one dish from Uzbekistan it would have to be plov, their national dish. A one pot meat and rice pilaf wonder, you can find different variations all over the country, probably even from house to house as generations pass down their own secret recipes. In Tashkent your life is made super easy by simply going to the Plov Center. (I know I’ve spelt it the American way but that’s how they spell it so please don’t give me English spelling grief).
Plov is all they serve here and quite frankly you will not want anything else. Before going into the building itself you will be distracted by delicious smells coming from the huge kitchen barn. I call it a barn for lack of a better word as it’s semi-open – there’s no way you would fit this operation in a normal kitchen! (n.b. it’s very clean and tidy so don’t be worrying yourself). Above wood burning fires are six humongous iron cauldrons, like baths. I could curl up in one and be extremely comfortable were it not for the blazing fire underneath. Whilst trying to take it all in, one of the younger chefs approached us. His English was immaculate and we had a good old chat which resulted in him giving us a tour of the kitchen, showing us how everything worked.
First of all the meat, green peppers (they’re a much paler green here, not like the traffic light green we commonly find in the UK), carrots, raisins, chickpeas and herbs are cooked together for an hour. You can see and hear it bubbling away quite strongly, I think they keep it on a relatively high heat. The smell is incredible! On this particular day they were making beef and mutton plovs – half a cauldron for each. Once an hour’s up the next step is to add rice on top so the meat and vegetable mixture is covered. This way it absorbs the steam and cooking juices which gives the rice tons of flavour. Then you just wait for the rice to cook and you’re done! What I liked about the cooking process here is that while plating up they get rid of any excess oil which naturally comes out of the meat so that your plate isn’t swimming in it. Instead there’s just enough to keep the dish full and rich, you wouldn’t even notice it when eating. We watched them cutting the mutton into portion sizes and it just falls off the bone. The tenderness is unreal. Definitely time to eat!
Our new found friend showed us to the restaurant where we said our goodbyes. He was so friendly and was a great example of Uzbek hospitality which we now aspire towards in our own home.
You can tell some serious eating goes on in this place. High above the packed tables are huge chandeliers, red velvet curtains drape down the floor to ceiling windows. Regal decor for the QUEEN of Uzbek dishes. There is a constant stream of people coming and going, tourists and locals, all for the plov. Traditionally plov is served with a boiled egg. In this case we had two, one quail and one chicken. They also added a slice of horse sausage. This wasn’t particularly special to me, it reminded me of well done roast beef. However, the plov is simply delicious. The mutton is tender and rich, complemented by fruity bursts of raisins. The fact that it has been stewed for so long makes the flavours really deep and intense. I also love the chickpeas, so soft they’re almost creamy. The whole experience is stunning. I would come back to Uzbekistan for the plov here, it is that good!
You can tell a lot of care has been put into the cooking, let alone the effort and time. That makes it even more special. The fact that they only cook plov is also a key feature – if you only make one thing it has to be good!
The Center is right next to Tashkent’s TV Tower so you could start the day by getting an aerial view of the city before walking over for lunch. When we arrived at midday it was already buzzing and half their cauldrons had been sold so best be there early! You will have no regrets ?
I hope this has got your tastebuds going because there will be plenty more food fun in upcoming Uzbekistan posts! In the meantime check out my instagram and please give this post a like if you enjoyed it!
Total receipt (2 people): Roughly 60,000 Som (£5)
1x jug ice tea
2x mutton plov
Rating: ?10/10?The plov to which all other plovs will be compared!