FOOD IN UZBEKISTAN
Uzbek food is more similar to food found in Turkey, the Middle East, China and Muslim countries than food found in Russia. Because Uzbekistan is a Muslim country pork is hard to find but mutton and other sheep products and chicken are common. All parts of the sheep, including the eyeballs, brains, head and tail, are eaten. Mutton itself is often fatty. Beef, camel meat and goat meat is served in some places.
Round bread ( lepyoshka) and rice are staples. Restaurant offer things lie shashlyk (kebabs) and plov (pilaf). There is a good selection of melons, fruits, vegetables, dried fruits and nuts in the markets. Most are seasonably grown but the long growing season means that produce is available throughout the year. Commonly used spices include black pepper, black cumin, turmeric, dill, parsley, celery, coriander and sesame seeds.
Uzbek people have traditionally lived on meat and dairy products, including lamb, beef and horse meat. Russian dishes such as boiled chicken, Russian Salisbury steak, continue to endure in some places but are less common than in other parts of Central Asia. There are some backpacker restaurants, cafes and Korean restaurants. The best Uzbek food is served in homes, not restaurants, and these includes simple, working-class, unpretentious dishes. One of the nice things about some of guesthouses in Uzbekistan is that serve these kinds of meals.
Ideas about food from the Middle East and China made their way to Central Asia on the Silk Road and back again. Betty Hallock wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The introduction of millstones from Iran made wheat flour and Iranian-style dumplings possible in China. Some dishes invented in what's now Uzbekistan spread west to the Middle East in the 9th century. And at some unknown date several centuries ago, Central Asian countries learned of the Indian chapatti. Later, a Central Asian pastry named chakchak appealed to the Manchus and is still made in China, called saqima.” [Source: Betty Hallock, Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2014]
The world's first pears, apples and apricots evolved from wild plants found in Central Asia. Melons are very popular in Central Asia. They are sweet and delicious and are full of water and act as natural canteens. Melons are often served as a dessert or snack with tea. Markets are often filled with huge piles of them. Melons are often given as a gift and a gesture of welcome and farewell.
According to Oriental Express Central Asia: One particularly distinctive and well-developed aspect of Uzbek culture is its cuisine. Unlike their nomadic neighbors, the Uzbeks have had a settled civilization for centuries. Between the deserts and mountains, in the oasis and fertile valleys, they have cultivated grain and domesticated livestock. The resulting abundance of products has allowed the Uzbeks to express their strong tradition of hospitality, which in turn has enriched their cuisine.[Source: Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]
In accordance with Muslim beliefs, Uzbek people do not drink alcohol and eat pork. They like mutton, beef and and dairy products. Crusty pancake and tea with milk are standard fare for all three meals of the day, and they enjoy stewed meat with potatoes, honey and syrup. "Naryn," a mixture of minced cooked meat, onion and sour milk, dressed with gravy and pepper, is a table delicacy reserved for guests. The Uzbeks eat it with their fingers.[Source: China.org china.org *|*]
“The seasons, specifically winter and summer, greatly influence the composition of the basic menu. In the summer, fruit, vegetables and nuts are ubiquitous. Fruit grows in abundance in Uzbekistan - grapes, melons, watermelons, apricots, pears, apples, cherries, pomegranates, lemons, persimmons, quinces and figs. Vegetables are no less plentiful, including some lesser known species such as green radishes, yellow carrots, and dozen of pumpkin and squash varieties, in addition to the usual eggplants, peppers, turnips, cucumbers and luscious tomatoes. The winter diet traditionally consists of dried fruit and vegetables, and preserves. Hearty noodle or pasta-type dishes are also common chilly weather fare. |~|
“Uzbek dishes are not notably hot and fiery, though certainly flavorful. In general, mutton is the preferred source of protein in the Uzbek diet. Fatty tailed sheep are prized not only for their meat and fat as a source of cooking oil, but for their wool as well. Beef and horsemeat are also consumed in substantial quantities. Camel and goat meat are less common.
The wide array of breads, leavened and unleavened, is a staple for the majority of the population. Flat bread, or "non", "lepyoshka" is usually baked in tandoor ovens, and served with tea, not to mention at every meal. Some varieties are prepared with onions or meat in the dough, others topped with sesame seeds or kalonji. Central Asia has a reputation for the richness and delicacy of its fermented dairy products. The most predominant are katyk, or yogurt made from sour milk, and suzma, strained clotted milk similar to cottage cheese, which are eaten plain, in salads, or added to soups and main dishes, resulting in a unique and delicious flavor.” |~|
Central Asian Spices
Commonly used spices include black pepper, black cumin, dill, parsley, celery, coriander and sesame seeds. According to Oriental Express Central Asia: Some of their principle spices are black cumin, red and black peppers, barberries, coriander, and sesame seeds. The more common herbs are cilantro (fresh coriander), dill, parsley, celeriac, and basil. Other seasonings include wine vinegar, liberally applied to salads and marinades, and fermented milk products. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]
According to discoveruzbekistan.com: “Bay leaf refines and aromatizes mainly sour dishes. It is added to first courses - soups, cabbage soups, red-beet soups. Bay leaf adds spice to second courses made from lamb, beef, pork; goes well with boiled and stewed fish, vegetables. It is added to sauces. In marinating it is added to mushrooms, cucumbers, French beans, cabbage, canned meat and fish. It aromatizes vinegar. [Source: discoveruzbekistan.com <<<]
“Red pepper is one of the spices traditionally used in sausage production, also used when cooking galantines and cutlets. It goes well with meat, vegetable, legume and rice dishes. Chicken, pork, fish and seafood are spiced with it to add piquancy. It is added to cheese, curd produce, salads. For example, Korean salads cannot do without ground or crushed red pepper. The rate of laying pepper depends on the level of causticity of one or other kind, sort. In sauce production ground and crushed pepper goes for making chili ketchups, sauces and lechos. <<<
“Cloves possess a strong, peculiar aroma and a spicy taste. They are used for cooking bitter stomachic liquors, hot drinks with wine, punches, fruit juices and stewed fruits. They are added to dishes with red cabbage, pork, lamb, to dark meat gravies, to headcheese and pate from poultry, to mushrooms and jellied meat, when marinating herrings. In combination with kohlrabi leaves and onions it ameliorates the taste of sauerkraut. It is used very economically, in the form of powder, for cooking fish, spaghetti and sauces to it, as well as pizza. <<<
“Barberry is used plov, meat dishes, sauces, seasonings. It may be used for ameliorating the taste of stewed fruits and fruit sweets, making various sauces to game and fried beef. Fish dishes. In marinating: jams, jellies, juices, marmalades, stewed fruits. Black pepper is used for making soups, dressings, goulash, sauces, added to all kinds of meat and meat produce, to Savoy cabbage and sauerkraut, to dishes made from legumes (French beans, lentil, peas), marinated vegetables, dishes made from eggs, cheese and fish. One has to take into account the fact that a whole pepper possesses stronger aroma than the ground one.” <<<
Uzbek Eating Habits
Uzbek-style round bread has traditionally been served at all meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. A meal without it is regarded as incomplete. A large lunch or dinner consists of an array of salads and raw vegetables with bowls of soup and meaty stews. Uzbeks drinks tea before and after lunch and dinner and drink water or nothing with their meals.
Uzbeks start their day with a light breakfast between 7:30am and 8:30am that usually consists cheese and curds or yogurt with Russian tea and sometimes including sausage, eggs, bread, honey, cucumbers and pickled cabbage. Many hotels offer Continental breakfast often include boiled eggs, orange juice, different kinds of bread, marmalade, jams, butter, sliced meats, and items listed above.
Lunch is served between 1:00pm and 2:00pm and usually consists, of bread, pilaf, soup and/or mutton. The meal is usually accompanied by water or a soft drink and followed by tea. Meals on Sunday tend to be bigger and have more dishes. A standard lunch on a boat or train is borscht, rice and a slice of overcooked beef.
Dinner is usually served between 6:30pm and 8:00pm, and typically consists of boiled mutton, chicken, beef, stew served with pilaf, potatoes, rice, vegetables and/or salad. A light dinner is based around leftovers from the midday meal, cheese, sandwiches, or pasta. A larger, more formal dinner usually begins with appetizers and soup, followed by a main meat course, accompanied by bread, boiled or creamed potatoes, and salad or winter vegetables such as cabbage or carrots. The meal ends with cheese, fruit or a sweet dessert followed by coffee and/or vodka.
According to Islamic dietary restrictions pork should not be consumed and alcohol is forbidden. In Uzbekistan the restriction on pork is closely adhered to, with people eating lamb, chicken, beef, even camel and horse meat. There are also of taboos against eating the meat of dogs, donkeys and mules. Kyrgyz and Kazakhs eat horsemeat but Uzbeks don’t. Uzbeks are very picky about cleanliness. They generally wash their hands both before and after meals. After washing their hands, they wipe dry their hands with towels rather than shaking their hands. Sometimes, before having the meal, the host offers a hand-washing pot and a basin to the guest. The idea is the guests can wash their hands, which are then clean enough to grasp food directly from the plate without using serving spoons.
Any meal begins and ends with tea drinking. At the beginning the table is served with sweets, baked goods, dried fruits, nuts, fruits and vegetables, then it is served with snacks and at the end – with pilaf or other festal dish. Guests are given the most honorable seats at the table, or dastarkhan in Uzbek. In the old days, men and women sat at the separate tables. This custom is preserved in some rural areas and among conservative Muslims but otherwise is not adhered to so much anymore. The head of the family himself seats guests round the table, and the most honored guests are seated away from the entrance. [Source: orexca.com]
When having meals, the senior is seated on the distinguished seat while the young ones are seated on other seats. In a family consisting of many people, they will eat on separate tables. In this case, the children and the women will have meal at the same table. In the past, the Uzbek people ate food with their hands, so they had to wash hands before and after meals. Nowadays, except in some rural areas, where people have kept this habit, most Uzbek people eat with a forks, spoons and knives and, in China, with chopsticks. During the meal, people are forbidden to take off their hats or cough while eating at the table with guests. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
During feasts and large meal, tradition demands that the table be covered with food at all times. When guests arrive, all cold food items are on the table, served on small plates, namely the appetizers, salads, cakes and cookies and a fruit arrangement in the center. Only completely empty serving plates are cleared. Guests' plates are changed after every course.[Source: orexca.com]
Lepyoshka: Traditional Uzbek Bread
Lepyoshka (traditional Uzbek bread) is round and golden brown and often called “non”, “obi-nan” or “naan” (derived from Indian-style bread prepared the same way) . No meal us complete without it. Usually it is sprinkled with sesame for protein and nutmeg to stimulate appetite. Uzbeks are particularly fond of eating it with grapes and plov.
According to Oriental Express Central Asia: “The splendid variety of pastries known as lepyoshkas (round breads) play a prominent part in Uzbek cuisine. Lepyoshkas are mentioned in one of the world's oldest written works, "Eros about Gylgamesh", the legendary ruler of the Sumerians, who lived almost 5000 years ago. Lepyoshkas are baked in special clay ovens called tandir. While unearthing the Afrosiab archaeological site in Samarkand, finds included tandirs used by worshippers. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]
Dofro wedding cream is often added to naan. For festivals things like raisins, meats, crushed nuts are added. Sometimes onions and tomatoes are added to stimulate the appetite. One type made of millet, barely and bran is a traditional medicine for diabetes.
Making Uzbek Bread
Lepyoshka is made in factories, at home, in gas ovens, or the traditional way in a tandyr (tandir), a dome-shaped oven made from stones or clay and heated with firewood that burns at the bottom. The dough is often kneaded the night before its is cooked. Bread made the traditional way is placed on the inside of the tandyr over the fire and sprayed with water. In the intense heat turns the bread a golden brown color. When the bread is ready it is pealed away and placed on a wooden tray, which gives it a woody flavor. Sometimes bread is prepared in beehive earthen ovens.
According to Oriental Express Central Asia: “Tandirs are hand - built. They take the form of a cylinder with a narrow spout and two-centimeter thick walls made from mountain soil and camel or sheep hair. A finished tandir has to dry under the sun for a week. Sometimes big clay pitchers for wine, oil or grain are also used as tandirs. Tandirs are made in the yard under the awning and near the wall; the base of a tandir needs to touch the wall. A tandir's opening is 1.5 m off the floor, just opposite the baker's workplace. One more detail - the inner wall of a finished tandir is then oiled to smooth the walls and prevent the clay from sticking to the bread. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]
“Before each baking cycle, dried brushwood, finely chopped firewood from deciduous plants, is burned in the tandir. Firewood is gradually added until the walls of the tandir become red-hot, The coals and ashes are scraped towards the center and the walls are splashed with salt water to facilitate the separation of the bread from the clay wall. To put lepyoshkas into the fiery tandir, bakers use a rapida, a round lepyoshka-shaped cotton pillow. The raw shaped dough is placed on the rapida and carefully but swiftly stuck to the walls so as not to distort the perfect circular shape. Water is splashed against the wall until steam appears; Lepyoshkas are baked with steam, radiated heat from the coals and the convected heat inside the hot-red walls of the tandir. The appearance of a crunchy crust means that the lepyoshkas are baked through and through. Each loaf is removed with the special scoop. |~|
“Lepyoshkas baked in the tandir have a full aroma, delicious taste, and a high caloric content, and are said to hold healing powers. "One having eaten in the morning a slice of lepyoshka with raisins, fried peas or Circassian walnut will not be thinking about food for a long time", goes a quote from Ibn-Sina (Avicenna). To express their great respect for bread as a symbol of family happiness, Uzbek door to door bread vendors since ancient times have carried bread baskets on their heads.” |~|
Bread, Manners and Symbolism in Uzbekistan
Bread in Uzbekistan and elsewhere in Central Asia is considered sacred. It should never be cut; rather its should be broken apart with the hands. It should never be placed on the ground, thrown away or turned upside down. If you have a big piece of bread, break it into pieces and give everyone around you some pieces. After breaking a piece of bread, people cup their hands together and pass them over their faces as if washing. Thus is a Muslim gesture of thanks. Uzbeks swear on a lepyoshka the way Americans do on a Bible.
Bread has traditionally been broken by host and offered to guests as a welcoming gesture. Describing a villager offering bread, Philip Glazebrook wrote: “He took up a round of the flat bread of his native land and, breaking it in his hands, pushed a fragment piece over the checkered cloth towards each of us. There was real benevolence in the lined face which looked at us in turn.”
Bread is broken to symbolize friendship and consecrate business deals. It is used for a blessing as children grow up. When a child is born lepyoshka is placed under his or her head so the child will live long without want. When a baby takes its first steps bread is placed between the legs so that its road may be blessed. When a son goes off to war or starts his military services a lepyoshka is broken in half. The son takes his half and his mother keeps hers and gives it to her son when he returns. As long as she keep her half, her son will return home alive.
For many people bread is a symbol of the sun. People who prepare it sometimes press the dough and punch it with a special hammer to produce a circle around a point, the ancient symbol of the sun. The number of stamps depends on where the bread will be eaten: at a ceremony, a festival, a wedding or an ordinary meal.
Different Types of Lepyoshka
Lepyoshka is similar to the round breads eaten throughout Central Asia. In different areas of Uzbekistan, it is baked and eaten in different ways, Many people add milk, edible vegetable oil, mutton fat or butter into the flour, making the naan crispy outside and soft inside. That is called "you naan" (meaning naan with oil). In addition, is meat naan, raisin naan and many other kinds.
According to Oriental Express Central Asia: “ In Samarkand, small thick lepyoshkas, called shirma nan, are the most popular variety. According to ancient legends, one Emir from Bukhara had through hear say come to know of the fabulous taste of Samarkand lepyoshkas. He ordered his people to bring to the palace the best lepyoshka-baker. A Samarkand master bought flour, firewood and even water from one of the nearby villages and prepared the desired loaves. The lepyoshkas found everyone's approval, but when a connoisseur of Eastern cuisine tasted them, he announced "they are different", and the bread master knew his final hour had come. The Emir, much intrigued, asked him what he had to say in his defense. The old baker smiled and answered: "There is no Samarkand air around here." The Emir appreciated the clever answer and set the master free. There may be a kernel of truth in what the old bread master said, as scientific research has shown that the harder the dough is kneaded, to enrich it with oxygen, the lighter the bread ultimately becomes. [Source:Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]
“Bukhara lepuoshkas, sprinkled with sesame or Nigella, exude a delicate aroma. This bread amazes you with its unique taste and healing power. Sesame causes the satiety and Nigella on the contrary whets the appetite. Wedding patir (flaky lepyoshka) from Andijan and Kashkadariya, According to ancient traditions this aromatic bread prepared with cream and butter was served during matchmaker meetings. |~|
Tashkent lochira, plate-formed lepyoshka, is baked from short pastry (milk, butter and sugar). Jirish nan is specially prepared bread made from flour mixed with bran; It is to this day used as a remedy for diabetes mellitus. Nomadic tribes didn't make tandirs because of their lifestyle. They cooked bread on butter in kazans (cauldrons), preparing the dough on a milk base. Particularly in the mountainous areas of Jizzak, kazan-patir is routinely enjoyed. |~|
Fruits, Vegetables and Hot and Cold Dishes
According to Oriental Express Central Asia: “The seasons, specifically winter and summer, greatly influence the composition of the basic menu. In the summer, fruit, vegetables and nuts are ubiquitous. Fruit grows in abundance in Uzbekistan - grapes, melons, watermelons, apricots, pears, apples, cherries, pomegranates, lemons, persimmons, quinces and figs. Vegetables are no less plentiful, including some lesser known species such as green radishes, yellow carrots, and dozen of pumpkin and squash varieties, in addition to the usual eggplants, peppers, turnips, cucumbers and luscious tomatoes.The winter diet traditionally consists of dried fruit and vegetables, and preserves. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]
In Central Asia, vegetarian dishes are common because meat wasn’t always available or easy to keep refrigerated. There is also an emphasis on creating a balance of wet and dry dishes and “hot” and “cold” dishes. Najmieh Batmanglij, the author of a Silk Road cookbook told the Washington Post, “That way you don’t get stomachaches. That’s why you find certain food together like yogurt and cucumber [which are cold] and dill and garlic [which are hot]...May mother was always concerned about balancing hot and cold ingredientspomegranates wee cold. Walnuts were hot. Apricots were cold. Lamb was hot.”
Pomegranates are common sights and have a symbolic meaning: fertility and lots of children. In markets you will see shoppers testing their ripeness with a pinch of the fingers. Tomatoes are sometimes offered as a kind of welcoming gesture, with big tomatoes regarded as an Uzbek symbol of hospitality. Eating a tomato in Uzbekistan is supposed to make one into a lover of Uzbek culture. Turnips are popular.
Melons of Central Asia
In Central Asia, melons are a cultural obsession.David Karp wrote in Los Angeles Times: “In Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and China's Xinjiang region, hundreds of varieties ripen to perfection in the region's hot, dry summers, producing ultra-sweet, luscious fruits with unexpected flavors such as gardenia and vanilla. Melons overflow the bazaars and are piled by the roadsides. They are celebrated with special holidays; consumed for their medicinal properties; cooked, dried and even stored for the winter in special melon houses. [Source: David Karp, Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2010 +++]
“The melons of Uzbekistan are as diverse and highly reputed among fruit lovers as the cheeses of France, but one type, typically sold in California just as "Uzbek melon," has created the greatest sensation, in more ways than one. Oval in shape, it's supremely sweet, aromatic and delicious. It has a greenish or tan netted rind and creamy, melting white flesh that turns to orange at the center. "In our taste tests, the Uzbek was No. 1, hands down," says Richard Molinar, a Fresno County farm advisor who has compared several dozen melon varieties in test plantings since 2005. "I became infatuated with its floral aroma, but its shelf life was poor." +++
“On a recent visit, the melons were exquisitely sweet and aromatic, with juicy, melting pulp, but many of them cracked open when ripe, and the leaves of many plants were brown and withered from powdery mildew...He intends to expand his planting to 3 acres next year; he also dreams of growing Uzbek melon varieties intended for storage, which taste as bland as potatoes at harvest but convert starches to sugars over several months while suspended from nets in special melon houses. By midwinter they develop a uniquely mellow, musky flavor. +++
“The one Central Asian melon type that has succeeded commercially so far” in California “is Hami, which refers not to a single type of melon but to a diverse range of varieties cultivated in the Xinjiang province, in northwestern China.” One “is elongated and netted, with very crisp salmon or white flesh that is crunchy and sweet and has a distinctive peppery aftertaste. Compared with other Central Asian varieties, it ships and stores like a rock.” +++
Central Asian Melon Farming in California and Murder
David Karp wrote in Los Angeles Times: “The melons started arriving here in 1993, when investors who had emigrated from the former Soviet Union put in experimental plantings of Uzbek melons in the Fresno area, which grew by 1998 to some 200 acres. They hoped to make their fortunes selling to fellow expatriates, but pests, overplanting and inadequate marketing led to financial fiasco, disputes between the investors and allegations of embezzlement. [Source: David Karp, Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2010 +++]
“As recounted in a 1998 Fresno Bee article headlined "Melons & Murder," near the end of a disastrous season in which many of the Uzbek melons were left to rot in the fields, an intruder shot and killed one of the investors, Raisa Altman, 67, just inside the front door of her home in Pacific Palisades. Though the murder remains unsolved, the article connects the killing to the troubled business. Cultivation of Uzbek melons in the area faded away after that, Molinar says. "People got scared." But Molinar had saved seed, and this year he gave some to Balakian Farms of Reedley, Calif., to plant half an acre of the Uzbeks. Two weeks ago, they started selling them at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza and San Rafael farmers markets. +++
“For farmers wanting to grow Uzbek melons, the tricky part is obtaining seed, which is not readily available from domestic seed companies or catalogs. "You just have to know someone" in Uzbekistan says Michael McKenzie of Lucky Nickel Ranch in Eloy, Ariz., who hired farmworkers from Uzbekistan this summer to grow 3 acres of Uzbek melons, which he sold at local farmers markets. +++
"Customers raved about the melons, which were just as good as the Uzbeks said they would be," he says. Uzbek melons have not been widely available at Southern California markets for some time, but the demand for them remains. This year, the owners of Bazaar, a grocery in Tarzana that caters to Russian and Central Asian customers, linked up on a Central Asian Melon Hunting online forum with Dennis Stowell of Tom King Farms in Ramona, northeast of San Diego. They agreed to supply him with Uzbek melon seed if he would sell them the fruit, and he planted about half an acre. +++
“Various types of Hami were grown on a small scale in California as far back as 1990, but it was Mark Hamby, a businessman who visited China between 2001 and 2003, who kick-started the deal by bringing back the seeds of 36 Hami types and planting the most promising ones in the Imperial Valley, near the Mexican border. Today, California and Arizona farmers grow more than 1,000 acres of Hami. Production starts in late May in the southern desert, shifts to the west side of the San Joaquin Valley in late July and returns to the desert for a smaller crop in October and November.” +++
“The west side of the San Joaquin Valley, from Los Banos south to Kettleman City, offers excellent conditions for melons, with hot days and cool nights. On a recent visit, the harvest at a 120-acre planting of Sandstone Marketing in Huron impressively combined industrial scale and careful attention to quality. Just after dawn, a supervisor measured the sweetness of fruit samples before showing workers what to look for in a ripe fruit: dense netting and a golden tinge. The pickers spread out across seven rows, rustling through the leaves to locate ripe fruits, which they hefted onto a wide, slow-moving harvest platform to be brushed, sorted and packed by hand. Some of the melons are sold through mainstream chains, but about three-quarters of Hamis go to markets catering to customers of Chinese and Russian heritage, shippers say. It's a long way from the fruits' origins in the fields of Central Asia to California markets, but for many immigrants, traditional melons powerfully recapture memories of home.” +++
Tajik Melon Farmer in California
David Karp wrote in Los Angeles Times: “One of the first and most persistent farmers” of Central Asia melons in California “was Mohammed Saleh, an ethnic Tajik born in 1941 to a family of melon growers in Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan. He joined the Afghan army, then the mujahedin fighting the Soviets in the 1970s. He was wounded and sent to India for treatment of an injury. In 1982, he ended up in San Jose. [Source: David Karp, Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2010 +++]
“He brought with him melon seeds from Kunduz, which he planted in his yard. They produced large, elliptical fruits with striped, netted rinds and sweet, crunchy, juicy white flesh. Over the next decade, he selected the most promising types. He eventually focused on the celebrated Asqalan variety, considered his country's best, but only succeeded in producing a high-quality crop when he relocated his Kunduzi Farm to a hotter area on the northwestern edge of the San Joaquin Valley, in Vernalis, west of Modesto. Even there, it wasn't easy. He found that his plants, like many Central Asian melons, are much more susceptible than standard American varieties to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew. +++
“The melons sometimes arrived too ripe to sell to stores, said Dennis Weiss, Saleh's former wholesaler at the Los Angeles produce market. The huge size of the fruits — 10 pounds is typical, but some weigh up to 50 pounds, too large for shopping carts and refrigerators — was also a problem for retailers, he added. Saleh formed a partnership with a local farmer, Bill Alderson, and planted as many as 100 acres, but this proved too much for the limited market. "We had melons coming out our ears," Alderson recalls. Four years ago, Saleh returned to Afghanistan to visit family and friends, Alderson stopped farming, and the Afghan melon deal seemed defunct. +++
“But recently Saleh returned to California, where his love for the melons of his homeland drove him, at age 69, to grow them again. "A lot of people were calling him, asking when the next shipment would be, so he finally gave in," says his son Mallik, who is helping him with the farm. Saleh obtained a fresh supply of seed, made a deal with another farmer in Vernalis to plant 20 acres, and last week his Afghan melons were back in the market, going out to ethnic stores such as Jons Marketplace and Super King.” +++
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2016