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Feast the People

More feasting was the name of the game, here at the Yakubjanov household in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. This morning it was three fatty, piping hot giant steamed dumplings called, of all things, Manty. More of that dark earthy halva, and eggs fried with sausage. Grapes and fresh bread were always nearby was well.

We were cautioned not to eat too much by Shoney, for there was lots of feasting that would need to take place today.

So we ate, doing our best to hold back, but with Mrs. Yakubjanov’s excellent cooking, we were none too successful. We were going to get to try even more Yakubjanov family cooking, for our next stop was Shoney’s grandfather’s house for some Plov. Plov is the quintessential Uzbek dish, a rice pilaf filled with meat, onions, carrots and savory spices. As it is cooked, the steam is said to rise to the heavens along with your prayers.

That morning, Shoney’s sister had taken Scott’s Speed TR out for a ride and had come back complaining that it was making a weird noise. It had been a while since that front wheel of his had eaten a bearing, so we grabbed one of the spares that we’d bought in Syria at the NSK shop, grabbed his front wheel, and hopped in a cab. Shoney’s grandfather was actually an auto mechanic and engineer, so we were assured we would have the tools to perform the repair.

As we drove back to Nazarkulov’s neighborhood, we passed this Lada carrying a trunk full of raw meat. Very interesting.

Shoney’s grandmother greeted us at the door, and very cordially asked us to take off our shoes. We were then invited to retire to Nazarkulov’s study, to peruse old Soviet books, while she got the last bits of the Plov done and Nazarkulov made his way back from dealing with a death. It turns out that in his retirement, he had become the man in their community to make himself an expert on the many bits of bureaucracy and cultural observation that must be handled when someone dies in Uzbekistan.

And so we waited, perusing his amazing collection of books. He also had a computer and an Internet connection as well! Very rare among the older Uzbek generation. Not even Shoney’s family had Internet in their home. This old man was refusing to fall behind the times!

And then it was time, once again, to feast. And my goodness was it an amazing meal. It began with fresh tomato salad and fried cauliflower. Have I commented yet as to the amazing quality of Uzbek tomatoes? They are like nothing available anywhere else in the world outside of a backyard garden. And they are consistently amazing, and the most appetizing deep red. I don’t think I ate a bad tomato my entire time in the country.

The next course was the Plov. And then more Plov. And then even more Plov.  It was delicious, hearty, and approachable. Too easy to eat, one might even say. So good was it, that we just kept eating until we couldn’t shovel another bite in. Part way through the meal, Nazarkulov brought out some of his homemade white wine, which he had bottled in an old vodka bottle. It too was scrumptious.

When we were too stuffed for words, out came a giant plate of some of the most delicious Uzbek melon. And once we had finished that, it magically reappeared, full once again with melon. The dessert featured both watermelon and dynia, which is a cantaloupe-like variant, which is famous all over the post Soviet world. All of them were impossibly sweet and perfectly textured.

Barely able to stand up from the table, we thanked our hosts again and again, then humbly asked if we might use their tools.

Nazarkulov produced a magnificent set of solid Soviet tools from the closet and we began to go to town on Scott’s wheel. When we got into the thing, we found that it was not, in fact, the bearing that had gone bad, it was the dynamo hub itself. So we proceeded to dig deeper, taking the entire hub apart and finding that the magnet inside had indeed cracked and was jangling around inside as the wheel turned. So we just removed the entire dynamo and threw it away, leaving the entire interior chamber of the wheel a big empty cavity.

And so we headed back out, wheel repaired, wandering on foot, over to a park across the street from the Soviet housing development where Nazarkulov lived. Shoney was on the phone with the hotel that had registered us, and the news was not good. We were quite sad to find the current registration only covered one day, and it turned out we would need to keep paying this hotel in order to stay legal in Uzbekistan.

We got over that pretty soon when we realized we had a bunch more feasting to do.

The next task was to buy shoes — pointy, black, leather shoes.  If we were going to operate after dark in the post Soviet world, we needed to look the part.  Shoes were step one; the critical foundation to any hard boiled Soviet sartorial ensemble.  So we headed back to the market, where we began searching. At first it was tough to locate the right pair, but after we stopped and bought some homemade kvas from an old Soviet doctor who was hawking her homemade brew in the street, the skies seemed to open up and direct us right to the perfect corner of the market. We dickered over a couple of pairs of Uzbek-style pointy black shoes before it was time to head to another feast.

We met up with Shoney’s parents at a Kazakh restaurant, where they treated us to a scrumptious meal of Kazakh five fingers horse meat soup, endless skewers of shashlik, and some Russian-style mayonnaise-heavy salads.


  1. Diane Heditsian | December 3rd, 2010 | 11:04 pm

    So Woody, you finally got your manti! They’re a lot bigger than the ones we were looking for in Turkey, but ingredients are likely the same.

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