Planning a trip to Uzbekistan (or maybe you have already arrived) and you would like to know a bit more about Uzbek food? Don’t worry, in this post, I will tell you about 10 dishes you must try in Uzbekistan at least once!
We travelled to Uzbekistan last December and loved it. We spent 4 full days in Uzbekistan (make sure to check out our itinerary for Tashkent and Samarkand in 4 days) and tried many different amazing dishes. Having grown up in Russia, I can’t say that I’m a stranger to Uzbek food. There are many Uzbek people in Russia and even more Uzbek restaurants. Moreover, my dad grew up in Kazakhstan during the USSR times, and a lot of dishes in Central Asia are similar, so I remember my dad cooking plov (pilaf) at least a couple of times. However, having tried real Uzbek food in Uzbekistan made with local produce, I must say that it has exceeded all my expectations! Everything was very delicious and finger-licking good, especially shashlik.
I must warn you that Uzbekistan is a paradise for carnivores, so if you have a special diet, you might feel a bit restricted food-wise. However, there are still some dishes you would be able to eat as a vegan / vegetarian, mostly salads, pasties and some soups.
Before we start with the top 10 dishes you must try in Uzbekistan at least once, here are some frequently asked questions I’d like to address:
This post's overview:
- 1 Who can travel to Uzbekistan? Do you need a visa?
- 2 Can you explore Uzbekistan on your own without a travel agency?
- 3 What’s the best time to travel to Uzbekistan?
- 4 How many days should you spend in Uzbekistan
- 5 Uzbek food guide: 10 dishes and foods you need to try in Uzbekistan.
- 6 Summary of Uzbek food guide – food you need to try in Uzbekistan
- 7 Some other posts you might like reading:
Who can travel to Uzbekistan? Do you need a visa?
If you’re wondering whether you need a visa for Uzbekistan, it’s better to check the official website here, as the rules might have changed since the day this article about 4 days in Uzbekistan was written. Generally, it’s pretty easy to visit Uzbekistan and if you’re from the EU, you don’t need a visa as of January 2022. However, to enter Uzbekistan, you need to show a negative PCR test taken up to 72 hours before your trip.
There are no strict rules about who could travel to Uzbekistan, however, it has its own red list – arrivals from some countries need to quarantine for 10 days.
Apart from that, it’s really easy to travel to Uzbekistan – you don’t need any invitations or travel vouchers.
Can you explore Uzbekistan on your own without a travel agency?
There are some challenges when it comes to getting around the cities (e.g. taxi drivers don’t usually speak English and there is no app you can use to ask for a taxi unless you have a local SIM card) and sometimes hotel personnel don’t speak English as well, however, it’s the same in a lot of countries around the world. If you travel a lot, that’s probably not unusual for you!
What’s the best time to travel to Uzbekistan?
Summer is always very hot in Uzbekistan, so it’s not recommended to travel there from June to early September, unless you enjoy the temperatures of 38-55C degrees. Winter is nice, it doesn’t usually get colder than -3C, and in Samarkand and Bukhara, winters are often sunny and somewhat warm (5-15C) during the day. However, you can expect subzero temperatures at night. I have a separate blog post about the weather in Uzbekistan in winter and our overall impressions from travelling to Uzbekistan in December.
The highest season in Uzbekistan is from March to early May and from late September to early November, when the temperatures are not too hot!
How many days should you spend in Uzbekistan
If you have a week in Uzbekistan, you would be able to visit most of the main highlights and travel to Khiva, Urgench and Bukhara. You could probably do it in five days as well, but that would require meticulous advance planning. For example, you would need to check the days when there are flights from Tashkent to Urgench or vice versa it would most definitely mean that you would arrive in one city and will depart from another one. For example, you can arrive in Urgench and depart from Tashkent.
If you only want to visit 1-2 cities, for example, Samarkand and Tashkent, 3-4 days would be enough.
Alright, without further ado, let’s get started!
Uzbek food guide: 10 dishes and foods you need to try in Uzbekistan.
The signature dish that Uzbekistan is famous for is plov or pilaf (it’s the same dish, but different people call it differently). It takes around 2 hours to cook pilaf from scratch, and it’s mostly done by men in Uzbekistan. Pilaf is cooked in large amounts and it’s all about sharing. It usually has a lot of meat – either lamb or beef.
There are over 50 different types of pilaf and each city in Uzbekistan has its own recipe (sometimes even more than one). The best places to try Pilaf in Uzbekistan are usually the markets! However, in Tashkent, there is a place called “Central Asian Plov Centre” where you can try different types of plov. It’s advised to ask for 1/2 of a portion, as plov is very fat and the portions there are huge. Make sure to go there early as this place closes at 2 pm.
Another dish that I definitely recommend trying is samsa. Samsa is a small triangular pie made with puff pasty and a variety of different fillings, from lamb to potato and onions. It is often sold in bakeries and cafes all around Uzbekistan, but the best samsa I’ve tried was on the market in Samarkand (read this post about the best things to do in Samarkand for 2 days). Samsa is a very heavy dish – the pasty is deep-fried in oil and the filling is often fried beforehand as well. Just like pilaf, samsa is not for the people, who have weak stomachs!
Like many other dishes on this list, shashlik is not exclusively Uzbek – you can find this dish in a variety of countries, from Turkey to Russia and Kazakhstan. However, different countries have different ways of marinating meat. Shashlik is a marinated chargrilled skewer of meat, usually lamb or beef, rarely – chicken and pork (pork is more common in Russia, as most of Central Asia is Muslim). It’s really delicious when eaten straight from the fire, when shashlik is still hot and juicy! We’ve eaten outstanding shashlik in the Chaihona in the middle of the Siyob market in Samarkand.
Uzbek bread / lavash / patyr
Bread is very important in Uzbekistan and it’s an essential part of Uzbek cuisine. There are many types of bread in Uzbekistan – the most common one sold at the markets is bread from tandoor, a special oven. Another type of bread is a huge round piece of bread that weights over 1.4 kilos – the most popular one is from Samarkand, where it’s baked near the observatory. It’s said that this bread never gets mouldy!
There is also lavash, another type of bread, similar to flatbread, but much thinner – this one is usually eaten with meat or used in wraps.
Finally, there is patyr, a layered bread with a filling, e.g. cheese and onions and it’s also very delicious!
You can try all these breads at the restaurants or at the markets – they are not so hard to find.
Achichuk salad & Shakadob salad
If you’re a vegetarian, eating out in Uzbekistan might be pretty challenging, as meat is very important in Uzbek cuisine. Most of the main dishes and even soups have meat, so your best bet are the salads. My favourite salads from Uzbekistan are achichuk and shakarob. Both of these salads are very similar, they are tomato-based. Tomatoes in Uzbekistan are amazing, they taste very different compared to European tomatoes, they are very sweet and acidic! Shakarob salad consists of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Achichuk, on the other hand, consists of tomatoes, onions and basil.
Manty is another example of a dish that is common all around Central Asia (and even the South of Russia), however, in each region, it has its own variations. The ones you’ll find in Uzbekistan are usually steamed and served in a dish that resembles a wooden dim sum container. The filling is made of beef, onions and herbs. If you order manty in a restaurant, you will usually get a portion that consists of 5-6 pieces and it’s served with a sauce, typically yoghurt-based sauce with garlic or herbs.
Lagman soup is a signature Uzbek dish of Uyghur origin that is made with lagman noodles, stripes of beef, vegetables and a special meat sauce. The noodles are usually hand-pulled rather than bought in a shop. Lagman soup is a very warm, rich, hearty soup that is especially great in winter, when it’s cold outside!
Fried Lagman noodle
Lagman noodle doesn’t have to be consumed as a part of a soup only – it can be fried as well and be served as a main along with fried marinated beef, sauce and vegetables. When you order Lagman in Uzbekistan, make sure to specify whether you want it fried and served as a main or boiled as part of a soup!
Another dish in this Uzbek food guide is Kazan kabob. This dish came to Uzbekistan from Iran and translated from Persian it means “fried meat”. Usually, in this most frequent form, Kazan kabob is served as fried marinated beef with a golden crust surrounded by fried potatoes. However, each restaurant and cafe have their own recipe of Kazan kabob and sometimes even use different meat, e.g. lamb instead of beef.
Another variation of this dish only has fried strips of marinated beef and no potatoes at all, like in the photo below!
Finally, the last but not least of the dishes you need to try in Uzbekistan is halva. Halva is a sweet made of sesame seeds, however, in Uzbekistan it’s very different compared to the Middle East. That’s because Uzbek people add powder milk and some other ingredients to their halva, so it tastes almost like a nougat. There are different types of halva in Uzbekistan, and it’s available at any market (it doesn’t cost much, you can get 300 grams for something like $4 in Tashkent and probably for less in Samarkand and Bukhara).
Summary of Uzbek food guide – food you need to try in Uzbekistan
Alright, I hope that you enjoyed reading this article about food you need to try in Uzbekistan. As I mentioned previously, the food in Uzbekistan is amazing – it’s unusual and very delicious! However, if you’re a vegetarian or have a weak stomach, you might have issues finding something you can eat, as most of the dishes are meat-based and have a lot of fat! In some restaurants, I even recommend asking half a portion or sharing a full portion with someone else, as the dishes are very heavy and it’s very easy to overeat!
In the unlikely case you get a bit tired of local cuisine in Uzbekistan, I recommend heading to Tashkent – there are plenty of restaurants serving international food (e.g. Meat me in Marriott Courtyard), so you’ll definitely find something you can eat there.
Some other posts you might like reading:
Itinerary for 4 days in Uzbekistan: Tashkent and Samarkand (+Bukhara, optional)