Uzbekistan is still a destination that remains under the radar for most travelers but some of the country’s most iconic monuments like the Ancient City of Khiva, the Registan in Samarkand, and the Kaylan Minaret of Bukhara are getting a fair dose of Internet fame. Uzbek food, on the other hand, not so much. That’s why we decided to write this article; because the food in Uzbekistan is actually to die for. Their cuisine is a mix of Turkish, Slavic, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean influences, so one could say that Uzbek cuisine indeed, does offer the best from all worlds. But before we start with the best dishes from Uzbekistan, let’s start with some basics.
Characteristics of Uzbek Cuisine
If I had to describe the food in Uzbekistan in three words, I would say it’s heavy, hearty, and fatty. Uzbek cuisine primarily consists of meat dishes but all restaurants, eateries, and other establishments serve freshly butchered meat and locally-sourced, organic vegetables. No frozen food, no artificial flavors, hormones, colorings, etc. In addition to this, most meals are served with bread. Uzbek cuisine doesn’t use a lot of spices but this doesn’t mean their dishes are not flavorful.
Vegetarian food in Uzbekistan
Unfortunately for vegetarians, there aren’t too many vegetarian/vegan options (except for salads), at least when it comes to traditional Uzbek food. However, you can find a variety of restaurants in the bigger cities where you can get a number of vegetarian options. This trend will likely keep gaining traction as tourism becomes a more significant part of the country’s economy.
However, despite this, Uzbekistan offers a plethora of unique culinary activities with the most fascinating one being…
Choyhona is a significant part of Uzbekistan’s warm and hospitable culture. Choyhonas are establishments where you can bring your own food (but also order) and socialize with peers while sharing the food with them. Here, you might see some unusual dishes, such as boiled cow tongue or an oxtail stew but these dishes are also a significant part of Uzbek culture and there isn’t a better place to experience local life and learn about Uzbekistan than visiting a traditional choyhona.
With that being said, let’s see which are some of the best food to try in Uzbekistan.
Food in Uzbekistan- Appetizers
Manti is probably Uzbekistan’s most beloved appetizer. It’s basically a large steamed dumpling that looks a lot like momos filled with ground meat, most usually ground lamb or beef (here’s a similar recipe) topped with some extra fat to enhance the flavor. Traditionally, Manti is served with yogurt (for dipping) and is eaten with hands, so don’t be shy.
Are you a fan of dumplings and similar dishes? Then you’ll probably like our pork momos recipe!
Shurpa is a hearty, lamb soup that consists of thick slices of vegetables and large chunks of lamb topped with fresh parsley. It’s a very popular delicacy and you can find it in every eatery around the country. Shurpa is a great winter food, an amazing appetizer, and a surprisingly good breakfast (with some bread). It’s similar to chorba, a stew that’s very popular in Turkey, and several different Balkan countries.
Kuza shurpa is one of the most common soup appetizers of Uzbek cuisine. It’s a great starter for any meal and a perfect winter food. It consists of lamb on the bone, green peppers, potatoes, and carrots. The portion in which is served is quite large and a lot of tourists are surprised when they hear this is only an appetizer.
The best way to describe Chuchvara is as a mini-Manti. You can find them prepared in a variety of different ways. The most common version is steamed but they can also come in a soup or deep-fried. The soup version seems to be inspired by Chinese cuisine, more particularly, the popular wonton soup and the deep-fried version was introduced because it’s easier (and less messy) to eat than the steamed Chuchvara.
If you’re looking for a dish that will wake up your taste buds, you should definitely try Honim. Honim is the biggest dumplings of the Uzbek cuisine stuffed with potato strips topped with tomato sauce, fresh onions, and chili peppers. The final result is a tender delicately-prepared dumpling that (surprisingly) tastes a lot like Italian ravioli.
If you ever visited Turkey or some of the Mediterranean countries, you’ve probably heard of dolma. Dolma consists of vegetables, such as peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, etc. stuffed with mostly rice and minced meat. The Uzbek version of this dish is called Dalma and is traditionally prepared by stuffing either peppers or cabbage leaves.
In case you didn’t get it by now, Uzbeks love dumplings! Guzlama is yet another variation of flat, fried dumpling that originates from the city of Khiva that this list of food in Uzbekistan wouldn’t be complete without. In Khiva, you’ll see Guzlama in most menus, as this is arguably the most popular local appetizer.
With a history of over 1,000 years, Tukhum Barak is one of the oldest traditional dishes of Uzbek cuisine. This is yet another flat dumpling dish with the form of an envelope. Tukhum Barak is usually filled with eggs, milk, and onion and served with yogurt for dipping but there’s also a sweet version that’s stuffed with pumpkin pieces.
Food in Uzbekistan- Local Salads
Achichuk is probably the most popular salad in Uzbekistan and what kind of list of food in Uzbekistan would this be without the country’s most beloved salad? Achichuk is actually very simple to prepare; it consists of long slices of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. You can find it in every restaurant and you’ll surely order it at least a few times throughout your trip.
Vesenniy (spring) Salad
Vesenniy is another popular Uzbek salad. It’s nicknamed ‘spring salad’ because the vegetables required for its preparation are only available during spring and summer. The salad consists of cucumbers, red radish, green chilies, and plain yogurt. I know it might sound a bit bizarre, but it’s actually very tasty and refreshing (especially during the hot summer months).
Not to be confused with the Persian stew that shares its name, the Uzbek Bademjan is a salad that consists of sliced eggplant, peppers, and radishes sprinkled with some parsley. It’s one of the most popular appetizers in Uzbekistan.
Food in Uzbekistan- Side Dishes
Breads- Tandy Nan, Lepyoshka, Patyr Nan, etc.
In Uzbekistan, there’s a saying that no meal is complete without bread. And as a country with such a strong bread culture, it’s no surprise that you can find a rich variety of delicious breads. You’ll see people selling homemade bread on the streets and in convenience stores.
And if you make an order in a restaurant and bread is not in it, the weather will likely remind you just to make sure. The most popular bread is lepyoshka that looks like a giant bagel but there are a lot of other delicious options as well, such as Tandy nan (tandoori flatbread) and kutabi (a fluffy flatbread).
Suzma is the yogurt for dipping we mentioned a couple of times above. It’s usually served with all types of bread and dumplings. It’s basically salty yogurt optionally topped with onions, dill, and parsley. A lot of restaurants serve it as a complementary addition to your bread and/or dumplings.
Food in Uzbekistan- Main Dishes
It’s still unclear to me whether hasib is an appetizer, a snack or a main dish as I’ve seen people consuming it on all three occasions. Hasib is a thick lamb sausage with an intestine casing. I know it sounds bizarre and even disgusting but it’s actually very tasty. The finest hasib sausage can be found at Chorsum Bazaar in Tashkent and if you want a real flavor explosion, try eating it in a broth.
If you ask Uzbek people what’s the national dish of Uzbekistan, most will tell you it’s plov (or pilaf, depending on the region). Across Uzbekistan, there are 200 varieties of plov and nation-wide events and competitions are held every year in attempts to see who makes the best plov. The main ingredients of this dish include beef or lamb cooked in a large cauldron with carrots and onions. Plov is usually paired up with sausage and eggs.
Plov is consumed for every special occasion and important holidays where renowned chefs cook plov in large kazan (cauldron) for up to several hundred people but a lot of people eat it every week in their homes as well.
Shashlik is actually the Russian word for a shish kebab and that’s exactly what it is- a shish kebab prepared in Uzbek way. The Uzbek Shashlik consists of barbecued cubes of beef, lamb or (not so often) chicken on a stick. In some places, you can also find horse shashlik but obviously, this isn’t very popular among tourists.
Laghman is a dish consisting of hand-made pulled noodles dipped in meat or vegetable sauce made of bell peppers, onions, garlic, and local herbs. Laghman can be consumed in numerous different ways; it can be eaten as a main course meal, as a side dish or in a soup. The name of this dish translates to ‘stretch the dough’ referring to the way the noodles are prepared.
Just as its name suggests, this dish is made by taking the Laghman and stir-frying it with a mix of onions, peppers, and tomatoes. The final product is a finger-licking dish that tastes very similar to spaghetti (with a dose of local flavor, of course).
Speaking of food in Uzbekistan, we simply have to mention Shivit Oshi, arguably the country’s most colorful dish. Whether you see it in a roadside eatery or a restaurant, you’ll definitely remember it because of its appearance. Shivit Oshi consists of bright-green noodles that get the color by infusing them with dill.
This dish is usually topped with a stew of meat and mixed vegetables and a side of sour cream or the inevitable yogurt. If you want to try this dish, you would have to visit Khiva. I haven’t seen it anywhere else in Uzbekistan but even if it is available, it’s not very common and relatively difficult to find.
Dimlama is yet another hearty, meat dish of Uzbekistan that’s traditionally associated with the beginning of the harvest season. Dimlama is prepared by placing (you guessed it) lamb or beef, potatoes, carrots, peppers, onions, garlic, and cabbage in a deep pan, covering it and simmering for several hours. The final result is a delicious stew that just melts in your mouth.
As you might be guessing by now, stews are one of the most popular types of food in Uzbekistan. Moshkhurda is another delicious stew in which the main ingredients are mung beans and (of course) beef. The stew also consists of rice, onions, potatoes, carrots, and other fresh vegetables.
Also read: The best restaurants in Vientiane
While exploring street food markets in different parts of Uzbekistan, you’ll inevitably notice this giant pile of noodles and meat peaking from behind the counter. This dish is called Norin and it was one of the favorite dishes of Oriental merchants passing by the territory of today’s Uzbekistan and certainly a must-try.
Beshbarmak (or Naryn) is probably the most famous dish in Central Asia equally popular in all countries in the region, including Uzbekistan. The term Beshbarmak means five fingers, alluding to the traditional way nomads would consume this dish (with their hands). But don’t let this scare you from ordering it- today, you will get utensils with your Beshbarmak.
The dish consists of homemade noodles that almost look like shredded pieces of cheese and horse meat (that’s the traditional version) but you can find varieties of this dish with lamb or beef. Naryn is usually served with broth and yogurt.
Uzbek Fried Chicken Tabaka
Speaking of traditional food in Uzbekistan, I just have to mention the fried chicken Tabaka. Near the center of Tashkent (the capital), you’ll find a restaurant named Ugolok that takes pride in its 60-years old traditional fried chicken recipe. As you could see from this article, chicken is not consumed as often as lamb and beef but the fried chicken Tabaka is to die for!
The chicken is fried in butter instead of oil but they obviously have some secret ingredients (or techniques) because it’s one of the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted. The best part is the meat used is fresh and 100% organic.
As the name of the dish suggests, Kazan Kabob is a kebab made in a kazan (cauldron). The preparation starts with frying meat and potatoes at a high temperature and then covering the kazan and letting the mix steam until the water evaporates. Obviously, this is very different from the average kebab you might get in Turkey, the Middle East or the Balkans but it’s absolutely delicious and it melts as soon as it gets to one’s mouth.
Nohat shorak is a dish that consists of mashed chickpeas and meat (again, lamb or beef). I know mashed chickpeas might not sound like the most appetizing thing in the world but Nohat Shorak is actually quite tasty and rich in proteins.
Mastava is another popular Uzbek soup that consists of beef, rice, potatoes, onions, and carrots. It’s easily recognizable because it’s garnished with sour cream and topped with some cilantro that enriches the stew’s already savory flavor.
If you decide to visit Bukhara during your trip to Uzbekistan, don’t miss the chance to try Tandoori Lamb. This local delicacy is one of the tastiest things I tried in Turkmenistan. The lamb is traditionally prepared on a blazing tandoor oven for several hours until the meat is so tender that it barely clings to the bone.
The list of food in Uzbekistan wouldn’t be complete without covering the country’s most popular drinks. Let’s start with the most popular one…
Similarly to Turkey and Iran, Uzbekistan has a very strong tea culture. In Uzbekistan, tea is more than just a beverage- it’s a tradition. If you ever are invited to an Uzbek’s home, the first thing you’ll be offered is some tea (choy). Traditionally, tea is served with a stack of small bowls that are used instead of teacups and the number of bowls always equals the number of people on the table +1.
This extra bowl is used for mixing the tea. If you want to drink tea in Uzbekistan the right way, you should always pour tea for everyone else on the table (using the bowl) before you pour some for yourself and wait for someone to do the same for you.
Charlop is a salty yogurt that originates from Central Asia. In Uzbek cuisine, this yogurt is topped with parsley, radishes, dill, cilantro, and cucumbers. It’s a nice light drink that can open up an appetite before your main course.
This salty yogurt might be Turkey’s national drink but it’s very popular in Uzbekistan. Ayran is made by mixing yogurt, still water, and salt.
You might not think that Uzbekistan is a wine-producing country but it actually is. If you travel around the country, it’s not uncommon to see a lot of vineyards along the way. Grape-growing is a tradition with deep roots in Uzbek culture and you can find some amazing wines in Uzbekistan. The locals enjoy drinking it too despite the fact that the majority of the population is Muslim (I guess that time spent under Russian rule left its marks).
Food in Uzbekistan- Snacks
Next, let’s see what are some of the most popular snacks in Uzbekistan.
In our post about Indian street food, we mentioned that samosa has a lot of different variations in different parts of the world. Samsa is the Uzbek version. On the outside, it looks very similar to the Indian samosa; it’s a flaky pastry that’s traditionally eaten for breakfast. The main difference is the filling. In Uzbekistan, Samsa is usually filled with lamb or beef instead of potatoes.
Dried nuts and fruits
Dried fruits and nuts are very popular in Uzbekistan and you can find them at all street markets. The locals don’t have a habit of eating chips, snacks or other junk foods. After all, who needs that when you have organic nuts and fruits?
Toasted apricot seeds
Uzbek people don’t like to waste anything and this snack is a living proof. The apricot pits that are removed from the apricots are given a second life by drying and toasting them and turning them into a delicious snack. Locals love to consume it with a glass of cold beer.
If its appearance fools you into thinking it’s a sweet, you’ll be in for a salty surprise. Kashk is a salty, caloric dairy product from Central Asia made from fermented milk. The recipe was invented hundreds of years ago as a way to preserve dairy products; ideal for the nomadic groups from this part of the world. If I’d have to describe it, I’d say it’s a mix between yogurt and cheese.
Food in Uzbekistan- Deserts
As I mentioned above, Uzbek people don’t eat a lot of junk food and that includes chocolates too. So, don’t expect to find a lot of super-sweet and creamy desserts but that doesn’t mean you can’t find any delicious sweets in Uzbekistan.
Sweetest melons in the world
Did you know that Uzbekistan is home to some of the sweetest melons in the world? Locals claim that and after trying some of it, that statement doesn’t seem to be very far from the truth. And who needs chocolate and candy when you have such sweet melons?
Halva Baklava, and a variety of Turkish sweets
Turkish sweets like Halva and Baklava are very popular in Uzbekistan but they have a dose of local taste in it. Uzbek Halva is a fudge-like dessert made by mixing sunflower or sesame oil with sugar syrup and adding several optional ingredients that give this dessert a unique texture and flavor.
Do you like Turkish sweets? Then make sure to check out our homemade Pismaniye recipe (Turkish cotton candy)
We just can’t talk about food in Uzbekistan and not mention Nawat. Nawat is a unique local sweet that basically consists of crystallized sugar. It’s made from sugar syrup and/or grape juice.
Parvada is a tiny, white sweet made that’s very easy to make but incredibly tasty. All you need to make Parvada is some sugar, flour, and lemon juice. No food coloring, no chemicals, no flavors. Who said sweets can’t be healthy?
If you have the sweet tooth, you just have to try Holvaytar. Holvaytar is a local dessert prepared by mixing halva and flour (yes, another layer of flour). It’s usually topped with pieces of nuts and traditionally, people serve it to their neighbors when moving into a new house/apartment.
Enjoying this post and want to see more like these? Then make sure to check out our ultimate guide to Moroccan food.
Did this post help you learn more about food in Uzbekistan? What do you think about it? Would you ever try any of these dishes? Feel free to let us know in the comments!
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