Uzbekistan is without doubt a place for history nerds to congregate and get sweaty palmed about.
Samarkand, with its magnificent Registan dominating the central square, the awe-inspiring Gur Emir Mauseleum and the Bibi-Khanym Mosque that by night looks inspiring enough to consider putting trousers on;
Then Bukhara, so pristinely restored you can barely imagine “The Butcher” of said city causing the infamous scene of humiliation for the British Empire and a grisly death for two officers in the 19th Century, Stoddart and Conolly, where the Ark still stands proudly among the umpteen other Unesco Heritage sites.
We loved these places. They were really incredible. We are history nerds of the highest order and this was truly inspiring. But we are not going to use this space to dish out a history lesson (if you want this please click here). There are far more important topics to share, namely Uzbek wine, ice creams and afro men in a shirt (sic).
Yes, it is true. Non-believers step aside. Uzbekistan is one of the finest wine producing nations in the world. Unbeknown to us the likes of Petrus and Chapel Down(!) are relegated to the second division of wine competition at the Golden Gryphon International Wine Competition at Yalta every year. Feeling totally ignorant and intrigued as to how, after many years in the business of tasting fine (and not so fine) wines, we could have missed such a great champion, we were compelled to attend a wine tasting session at the Khovrenko Family Vineyard Headquarters. Walking into the rather grand stately home in our flip-flops and musty smelling clothes was at first a little uneasy with all the formalities that the original Khovrenko’s granddaughter bestowed upon us.
This feeling of unease did not last long as we were whisked into the main banquet hall which itself had an odour akin to a damp pannier bag that hasn’t been aired out for quite some time.. Presented with a wonderful collection of 12 of their finest grape vintages, Khovrenko jnr launched into her word-perfect recital of the script most likely written by her late Granddad and from which there could be no manoeuvring off-piste.
Among the double Super Grand-Prix winners, the Rkatsiteli was drinkable and the Cabernet Sauvignon had potential (to be served at a British pub). Unfortunately for us though the next 10 were either dessert wines that could barely be poured from their thick syrupy gluppiness or were Brandies of the strongest order – the kind whose odour will regurgitate for three days after the initial consumption.
Something the Khovrenko family should be proud of though are the excellent cheese-flavoured biscuits shaped like little fish that they served with the wine. With a crisp bite and subtle hints of the finest Gruyere that come through in the lingering aftertaste, these little creatures were sure to be the saviours of the family’s future portfolio.
In a vain attempt to rid our mouths of the 60% proof Fognac (new word) we stumbled out of the town house and lurched into the rather spanky venue next door ignoring the ban on sandals, shorts and T-shirts. In the usual spirit of amazing Uzbek hospitality the waiters welcomed us in and set about helping us to order from the menu written in the local dialect with supporting Unglish. If we failed to discover the latest hero of new world wine, chancing upon Afro Men in the Shirt was surely a highlight of our stay in Samarkand and perhaps even of the entire trip so far. Not many dishes can achieve such exquisite taste-presentation-satisfaction balance that AMitS has managed to achieve. We are confident that with our unearthing of this culinary sensation it will soon be a household favourite alongside Coq au Vin and Beans on Toast respectively, the world over.
And what better way to cleanse the palate after such a melee of wonderful flavours than a good olde Spotted Dick. Now before the squeemish turn away in disgust and for all the non-British readers, Spotted Dick is in fact an excellent steamed suet pudding usually served in most British pubs swimming in custard. Of course, this fine example of Anglo-Saxon cuisine cannot be found the world over. However, after Matthieu’s initial shock that his sweet-tooth cravings could be satisfied by something with such a shameful name, he has come to adopt it as reference to all desserts we discover along the way. In this case we are talking about ice-cream. Whilst in China one does not divert from the trusty Kendeji (KFC) or Dico’s Mr Whippy, and in Tajikistan we benefited from an excellent ice-cream trade with the famous European brands, Uzbekistan will forever stay in our hearts as being the country with the best/worst rip offs in the world. Below were but a handful of our favourite Spotted Dicks that we encountered:
Don’t be fooled by the elaborate packaging, they were all very average chocolate covered vanilla-ish ice-cream.
So, Uzbekistan done. The lack of riding stories are due to the fact the riding was fast, smooth but a little dull. We leave you with a scene of one night’s ice-cream destruction.