A Taste of the Stans

After 3 months in a country with such an immense culinary tradition as China, the bar of our food expectations was set pretty high when we reached Central Asia, the region known to non-geography experts as “The Stans”. Cuisine in the Stans revolves around an absolute devotion to meat. It is said that Uzbeks and Tajiks can taste the origin of a piece of lamb, what it has been fed on and the first name of the shepherd used to raise it just by smelling the scent from the grill. Central Asian butchers therefore dedicate their life to a search for the perfect breed, the perfect piece, the perfect cut of lamb that will suit the…four dishes on offer across the whole region: kebab, kebap, kebop and kebob. To be perfectly fair, restaurants in Central Asia usually have a large range of dishes on the menu. Unfortunately, at least at the time of our visit, the only one available was the humble meat-a-la-stick. Team Road of Smiles never takes no for an answer though. Capable of finding Spotted Dick in a haystack, we did manage to find diversity in Central Asian cuisine. Here are a few of our discoveries. In the words of one of our Uzbek friends: “Uzbek cuisine is extremely diverse. I only have kebab 3 times a week”.

The first dish we had outside China. Pasta, wheat, mashed potatoes, mutton and some sort of gravy. Carbs, anyone? In Irkeshtam, Kyrgyzstan.

The first dish we had outside China. Pasta, wheat, mashed potatoes, mutton and some sort of gravy. Carbs, anyone? In Irkeshtam, Kyrgyzstan.

 

According to the latest World Food Programme's report, cherries, bread and mutton account for 86% of Central Asia's cuisine. In Karakul, Tajikistan.

According to the latest World Food Programme’s report, cherries, bread and mutton account for 86% of Central Asia’s cuisine. In Karakul, Tajikistan.

 

Actually one of the most satisfying meals we have had in the Pamir. Best enjoyed after 5 days of the same chicken flavoured Chinese instant noodles. Mutton, potatoes and a cabbage soup. In Murghab, Tajikistan.

Actually one of the most satisfying meals we have had in the Pamir. Best enjoyed after 5 days of the same chicken flavoured Chinese instant noodles. Mutton, potatoes and a cabbage soup. In Murghab, Tajikistan.

 

The only place you can find salty porridge outside of Scotland. In Murghab, Tajikistan.

The only place you can find salty porridge outside of Scotland. In Murghab, Tajikistan.

 

The only few times Central Asians venture out of the mutton business, they nuke some perfectly fresh fish into a deep frier. Verdict: stick to mutton, please. Somewhere in the Pamir, Tajikistan.

The only few times Central Asians venture out of the mutton business, they nuke some perfectly fresh fish into a deep frier. Verdict: stick to mutton, please. Somewhere in the Pamir, Tajikistan.

 

Juicy lamb and onions. Tasted at 10 am. Awesome. Somewhere in the Pamir, Tajikistan.

Juicy lamb and onions. Tasted at 10 am. Awesome. Somewhere in the Pamir, Tajikistan.

 

While Jay Z owns his own cognac brand, 50 Centski sells flavoured croutons. Each to their own. In Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

While Jay Z has his own cognac brand, 50 Centski sells flavoured croutons. Each to their own. In Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

 

Manti, a sign of the Chinese influence in Central Asian cuisine. The cream on top is definitely a local addition, though. Somewhere in the Pamir, Tajikistan

Manti, a sign of the Chinese influence in Central Asian cuisine. The cream on top is definitely a local addition, though. Somewhere in the Pamir, Tajikistan

 

Dried goat cheese. Hard as a rock, and nasty, even by French standards. Best used to plug a sink or as ammunition for a catapult. Somewhere in Uzbekistan.

Dried goat cheese. Hard as a rock, and nasty, even by French standards. Best used to plug a sink or as ammunition for a catapult. Somewhere in Uzbekistan.

 

Kebab The Almighty. We thought we would never want to eat kebab ever again after Central Asia but who are we kidding? This is bloody good and we would still happily destroy a few of these skewers anytime. Somewhere in Uzbekistan.

Kebab The Almighty. We thought we would never want to eat kebab ever again after Central Asia but who are we kidding? This is bloody good and we would still happily destroy a few of these skewers anytime. Somewhere in Uzbekistan.

 

Grilled aubergines, marinated courgettes, beetroot salad, home made cream cheese. The chef was radiated from the Order of Uzbek Chefs for "excessive diversity" and "inconsiderate tastiness". In Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Grilled aubergines, marinated courgettes, beetroot salad, home made cream cheese. The chef was radiated from the Order of Uzbek Chefs for “excessive diversity” and “inconsiderate tastiness”. In Samarkand, Uzbekistan

 

Pulsar, the standard Uzbek beer. Best enjoyed cold with olives, peanuts and saucisson. Failing that, kebab will do. In Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Pulsar, the standard Uzbek beer. Best enjoyed cold with olives, peanuts and saucisson. Failing that, kebab will do. In Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

 

We don't know if it is because it was bought in a plastic bottle, served to us in a bowl or because it did not taste of beer but Qibray beer is simply wrong. Somewhere in Uzbekistan.

We don’t know if it is because it was bought in a plastic bottle, served to us in a bowl or because it did not taste of beer but Qibray beer is simply wrong. Somewhere in Uzbekistan.

 

The (not so) special one

The (not so) special one

 

Having left Erik the fruit-bat in Bukhara we were amazed to discover that merely a week later he had launched his very own brand of peach fizz with a hint of petrol

Having left Erik the fruit-bat in Bukhara we were amazed to discover that merely a week later he had launched his very own brand of peach fizz with a hint of petrol

 

Less of a gap, more of a giant pit of tasteless nothingness

Less of a gap, more of a giant pit of tasteless nothingness

 

Mutton dressed as lamb. This delicate little quiche-like pie was, surprise-surprise, filled with a sloppy mutton stew

Mutton dressed as lamb. This delicate little quiche-like pie was, surprise-surprise, filled with a sloppy mutton stew

 

What Starlucks is to Starbucks, Comca is to Samosa. Acceptable but not the real deal.

What Starlucks is to Starbucks, Comca is to Samosa. Acceptable but not the real deal.

 

There's nothing more satisfying than catching, killing and cooking your own meal.

There’s nothing more satisfying than catching, killing and cooking your own meal.

 

Unidentified grain + unidentified yellow vegetable + unidentified meat = unidentified balanced breakfast of champions

Unidentified grain + unidentified yellow vegetable + unidentified meat = unidentified balanced breakfast of champions

 

Our excitement at seeing this wonderful dish come to our table was a little dummed once we began to tuck in to find the usual suspects within

Our excitement at seeing this wonderful dish come to our table was a little dummed once we began to tuck in to find the usual suspects within

 

After China Team RoS were relieved to finally find a real Apple Store (baboom!)

After China Team RoS were relieved to finally find a real Apple Store (baboom!)

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