FOOD AND DRINKS IN TAJIKISTAN

FOOD IN TAJIKISTAN

Tajik food is influenced by food from Russia, Afghanistan, Iran and the other Central Asian countries. The staples of the Tajik diet, and the diets of most of the people in Central Asia are mutton, flat, crusty round bread, rice and tea. In accordance with Islamic beliefs pork is not eaten. Alcohol is consumed less than in other Muslim Central Asia countries. Common seasonings are onions, greens and sour milk (katyk). Widely-used spices including red pepper, zira, barberry, anise and saffron. Spicy greens such as coriander, fennel, parsley, mint, raikhon, green onions, and used to make salads and added to dishes.

The diet and preparation methods reflect economic conditions, everyday needs and ethnic features. In grazing areas, the foods are mainly dairy products and meat, with some bread and grain-based food. While in farming areas, bread and grain-based foods are featured more prominently, with some dairy products and meat and depending on the region some vegetables and fruit. The most valued foods are finger meat (meat eaten directly using the hands), rice or bread boiled with milk, and bread.

Many people subsist on flat loafs of coarse brown bread, dried white mulberries, homemade pats of butter, sour cream, a ground mulberry confectionary similar to marzipan and little else. In some poor areas people subsist on flat, brown bread and little else. Mutton, other sheep products and goat are the main source of meat, followed by chicken and beef. Many people are so poor they can’t afford meat and instead eat lots of beans.

Restaurants usually offer Western and Russian food. Choihonas (teahouses) serve traditional foods. Dishes found at restaurants include things like shashlyk (kebabs), pilaf, dumplings, and noodle soup. Russian dishes such as boiled chicken and Russian Salisbury steak continue to endure in hotel restaurants. A few European, Turkish, Iranian, Afghan, Chinese and Korean restaurants are present in Dushanbe. There is a good selection of fruits, vegetables, dried fruits and nuts in the markets in the cities. The best Tajik food is generally served in homes, not restaurants, and these includes simple, working-class, unpretentious dishes. Some guesthouses and homestays serve these kinds of meals.

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.

Tajik Eating Habits

Tajik-style round bread has traditionally been served at all meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. A meal without it is regarded as incomplete. Tajiks drink tea before and after lunch and dinner and drink water or nothing with their meals. Sweets and dessert are not necessarily a final dish. Sweets, drinks and fruit are often served twice, and sometimes even three times, before, after and during meals.

Tajik start their day with a light breakfast between 7:30am and 8:30am that usually consists of tea and bread. A wealthy family may eat butter and jam and perhaps eggs or porridge. Some Western-style hotels offer Continental breakfast often include boiled eggs, orange juice, different kinds of bread, marmalade, jams, butter and sliced meats. 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.

Dinner is usually served between 6:30pm and 8:00pm, and typically consists of boiled mutton, chicken, beef, soup, stew or Russian-style Salisbury steak served with pilaf, potatoes, rice, vegetables and/or salad. A light dinner is based around leftovers from the midday meal. According to Everyculture.com: “Soup often is served for dinner; it may contain a soup bone with meat, carrots, onions, and potatoes. Osh, a rice dish made with carrots, onions and meat, is served two or three times a week. At other times pasta, meat- and onion-filled pastries, and tomato and cucumber salads may be served. All meals are accompanied with large rounds of flat bread. [Source:Everyculture.com]

Traditional Tajik meals begin with sweet dishes such as halwa and tea, and then progress to soups and meat, before finishing with a pilaf. A larger, more formal dinner usually begins with appetizers, followed by a main meat course, accompanied by bread, pilaf, boiled or creamed potatoes, and salad or winter vegetables such as cabbage or carrots. The meal ends with fruit or a sweet dessert followed by tea and, in the case of more Russified Tajiks, maybe vodka.

Tajik Eating Customs

Pork is never eaten. Every meal is a ceremony. Tajiks treat food with great respect, especially bread, which is considered sacred. Bread must not be thrown or dropped on the floor or placed upside down. It should always be set carefully upright and broken carefully, not cut with a knife. Often, the crumbs are collected and disposed of ceremoniously. Tea is served to the host first to show that it is safe to drink. Islamic law forbids the consumption of alcoholic beverages, but this prohibition often is ignored. [Source: Everyculture.com, centralasiacultures.com]

Tajiks eat sitting on a sufa (platform) around a low table called a dastarkhan. The dinner begins with tea. Tea is drunk only from pialahs (bowls) which are brought in on trays. A tray with sweets, fruit, and flat cakes is brought separately. After that big pialahs with soup are served from bigger round dishes with main courses. Vegetable salads are served on plates. A senior family member is the first one to take a bite, then others may join the meal. [Source: advantour.com]

For feasts a goat is often slaughtered. While still warm the liver is salted and passed on a stick and cooked over a fire. Guests often sit on a platform with a low table surrounded by thin mats. When dining at the host's, the guests must not drop left-overs on the ground and must remain in their seats until the table is cleaned. In addition to taboos on eating pork, it is forbidden to eat animal blood, the meat of donkeys, wolves, foxes, dogs, cats, rabbits and marmots, and animals that have not been are not slaughtered according to Islamic rules. . People should pray before they slaughter the animals.

On holidays and ceremonial occasions, the table is covered with small plates containing delicacies that represent the pride and wealth of the host. Osh usually is served. Sumalak, a dish made from the juice of wheat sprouts, is served during Navruz, the Persian New Year. The making of sumalak is a ceremony, as the women recite poetry, sing, and dance. [Source: Everyculture.com]

Tajik Dishes

Traditional Tajik meals begin with sweet dishes such as halwa and tea, and then progress to soups and meat, before finishing with a pilaf. The Tajik national dish is kabuli pulao, a rice dish with shredded yellow turnip or carrot, meat, and olive oil or drippings.

Soup often is served as a main dish. It may contain a soup bone with meat, carrots, onions, and potatoes. Osh, a pilaf-like rice dish made with carrots, onions and meat, is served two or three times a week. At other times pasta, meat- and onion-filled pastries, and tomato and cucumber salads may be served. All meals are accompanied with large rounds of flat bread. [Source: Everyculture.com]

Traditional Tajik round bread is similar to round bread consumed throughout Central Asia. It is made from flours of wheat, barley, corn and beans. Among the other common foods are porridge, milk noodle flakes, milk paste, butter tea wheat paste, butter tea milk paste, butter tea, highland barley bread, butter tea sprinkled on bread, finger meat, finger rice, cheese, dried milk and milk tea.

Central Asian Dishes include shashkyl (kebabs, often made with mutton and served with ananas and bread), plov (pilaf-style rice mixed with meat, onions and carrots and other things), manti (steamed lamb dumplings, often served with minted sour cream), laghman (Chinese-style noodles), kesme (a stewlike noodle soup with potatoes, vegetables and meat), jarkop (braised meat and vegetables with noodles), hoshan (dumplings similar to manti), moshkichiri (bean and meat soup), dimlama (braised meat, potatoes, onions), sheep fat, mutton and various parts of the sheep.

In Tajikistan, many people eat nahud sambusa (chickpea samsas), nahud shavla (porridge), bean and milk soups, siyo halav (herb soup), tuhum barak (egg-filled ravioli covered with sesame seed oil) and chakka (curd mixed with herbs). You can also get besbarmak (large Kyrgyz-style, flat noodles topped by mutton or beef ), sweet plov with raisins, apricots or prunes or with pumpkin, zhuta (pasta with a carrot and pumpkin filling), shurpa (chickpea soup), hunon (noodle roll filled with meat ), samsa (deep-fried pastries filled with meat and vegetables) and cabbage or grape leaves stuffed with tomatoes and pears and meat, onion soup, pickled tomatoes, cucumbers .

A typical meal in Tajikistan consists non (local flat bread), salad, soup, potatoes and sour cream or milk. There is a wide variety of breads: leavened and unleavened. Some are sprinkled with things like sesame, nutmeg, poppy seeds or raisins. A wide variety of milk products from sheep, cows, goats, horses and camels are available. These include cheeses, yoghurt, cottage cheese, aryan (yoghurt drink), curd (salty dried balls), and kaimak (sweet cream skimmed from fresh milk).

Bread, Noodles and Pasta Dishes from Tajikistan

Tajik women are skilled at making bread and dough-based food such as lagman, ugro, sambusa and twiglets. Tajiks use a unleavened and yeast dough. The dough is usually rolled very thinly, producing a crusty bread that is especially tasty when eaten hot-out-of-the-oven. Traditional Tajik round bread, known as non, is baked in a tandyr — a clay oven stoked with fire wood. [Source: advantour.com]

The ingredients of traditional Tajik dough-based and grain-based dishes can be meat, vegetables, greens, spices, dairy products, eggs. Meat grain-based dishes including oriental dumplings (manty), every possible kind of noodles with meat (shima, lagman), pies with ground. meat (sambusa). Khushan (Tajik manty with special ingredients) is a special dish in Tajik cuisine Dough and meat are combined in shima and manapar.

Sambusa Baraki (Tajik puffed flat cakes) is prepared from a stiff dough made from flour, eggs, salt, and water. The big flat cakes are rolled out, greased, made in a roll, then cut and rolled out again. Minced meat (preferably mutton with tail fat and spices) is put on the unrolled dough and triangular pies are made. Authentic sambusu is baked in a tandyr. It turns is multilayered, fragrant and juicy. Katlama (puffed flat cakes) is made with stiff unleavened dough repeatedly rolled out thin, and shaped as envelops. The last layer is made into a roll which is cut into slices. They are rolled out again and deep fried.

Tukhum Barak (made with eggs) is made from unleavened dough made with milk that is rolled out thin and made into 8 centimeter-wide and 20 centimeter-long strips. The strips are folded double longwise, the edges are pinched together. The resulting pouches are filled with stuffing and pinched tightly from the open side and boiled in salted water. The stuffing is made from straw-cut onions browned in melted butter and finely chopped boiled eggs. It is very tasty when served with sour cream.

Shima is a popular noodle dish. To make it: unleavened dough is divided into parts, greased with vegetable oil and left for 5 to 10 minutes, then each loaf is extended and twisted with fast movements repeatedly to obtain thin strings. Noodles are cut, boiled and washed. Meat is finely cut, fried with onions; after adding tomato paste it is fried for another 10 minutes. Then water and vinegar are added and it is cooked until ready. The noodles are served with meat and sauce and sprinkled with chopped eggs and garlic.

Pilita (twiglets) are donut-like snacks made from sour dough cut into equal pieces and rolled out in 60 - 70 centimeter strips. Each strip is folded in half, braided and then fried in a plenty of fat. The ready twiglets are strewn with powdered sugar.

Tajik Pel'menis With Greens is a ravioli-like dish made with unleavened dough rolled out thin and cut in squares. Suffing (chopped greens of coriander, parsley, raikhon, sorrel, green onions, all salted and peppered) is placed on each square. After the edges are pinched together the pel'menis are steam cooked and served with sour milk or sour cream.

Tajik Meat Dishes

Meat dishes are mostly cooked from mutton or goat's flesh. Since Tajiks are Muslim they do not eat pork. Horse meat is eaten. It is used for making sausage called kazy. Generally, before cooking, meat is first fried until golden brown. This way Tajik dishes acquire a unique taste. Meat dishes used as main courses include: shish kebabs, kabob, golubtsi, roast meat, poultry and game. Fatty mutton is cut with little bones and fried with tomatoes, stewed with potatoes and stir-fried in a wok-shaped qazan with browned roots and onions, salt, pepper over a small fire. [Source: advantour.com]

Tajik Shish kebabs are delicious. There are several versions of them made from chopped meat, from chunks of meat, and even from vegetables. Mostly they are made from mutton, but beef is also used. Tail fat is considered a delicacy. To make classical Tajik shish kebab, mutton flesh and tail fat are cut in pieces and marinated in onions, spices and lemon juice. After the meat is left for two or three hours in a cool place it is put on skewers. Pieces of meat are alternated with tail fat slices and fried over heated coals. Tomatoes are cook separately on skewers. Cooked shish kebab is sprinkled with lemon juice and served together with the cooked tomatoes.

Kabobs are a Tajik dish made from ground meat (usually mutton). Tender minced mutton is mixed together with onions, spices, salt, and pepper. The resulting mass is used to form sausages. These are floured and fried in fat until crispy. Onions rings are browned. Partly-cooked kabobs are put into the onions with some meat broth and stewed until ready. It is served with greens and garlic.

Roasted meat is called “kaurdak.” Shakhlet — Tajik golubtsi — is made from beef crushed in a meat grinder and fried with onions and mixed with boiled rice. The ground meat and other ingredients are made into a sausage. The resulting golubtsi are fastened with a thread and boiled in broth. It is serves with sour cream sauce.

Pilaus and Porridges in Tajikistan

Pilaus (pilafs, often called osh in Tajikistan) are common, popular and often served at special occasions. There are five common styles: 1) Tajik pilau, 2) pilau with meat balls (“gelak palov”), 3) Dushanbe pilau (minced mutton flesh), 4) pilau with chicken and 5) pilau with pounded noodles (pilau “ugro”). Quince, peas, dried fruits, garlic are added to pilaus. [Source: advantour.com]

Home-made Tajik pilau is called ugro-pilau. Meat is cut into pieces, fried with onions and carrots. When it is partly cooked it is thrown into a broth. Noodles made from unleavened dough are roasted in an oven until golden-yellow, cooled down and pounded till the size of rice grains. These are then washed with cold water, put into the fried meat and cooked until ready, and served with green onions.

Porridges with meat are very popular too. Osh-tuglama, for example, is made of whole carrots boiled with a big chunk of mutton. The raw carrots are first fried in tail fat to and then added semi-cooked in a pot with onions and straw-cut carrots and broth. After that some rice is put and the pot is covered and cook until ready. Boiled meat and carrots are cut and added to rice when the dish is served.

Tajik Soups

Tajik soups are very thick, rich, sometimes spicy and often made with tomatoes and sour-milk products such as suz'ma, katyk, kimak, kurut. Tajiks cook their soups using meat or bone broth or frying thinly cut meat, sometimes with milk or vegetable broth. The most popular soups are shurbo and ugro. They are commonly cooked with red pepper, barberry, anise and saffron Spicy greens such as coriander, fennel, parsley, mint, raikhon, green onions, and sorrel are chopped up and added. Tajiks serve soups in a special deep, oval-shaped bowl called a kasa, pialah, or tavak. These ceramic bowls help soups remain hot for a longer period of time. [Source: advantour.com]

Lagman (Noodles with meat) is made with unleavened dough is rolled into a thin sheet and cut into thin long noodles. The noodles are boiled in salted water. After that they are cook a special sauce called kaily. To make it cube-cut meat, potatoes, carrots, Bulgarian pepper, fresh cabbage, onions, fresh tomatoes, chopped garlic, greens are fried in fat. Some water, spices and salt and added and the stew is cooked on a small fire for 30-40 minutes. The boiled noodles and sauce may be served with greens and sour milk.

Ugro (noodle soup with meat) is made with large pieces of mutton or beef are put in cold water along with carrots and onions and cook until it boils. Then soaked peas and potatoes are added and the mixture is boiled for 30 to 40 minutes. Ugro (the finest noodles) is prepared separately. Before serving the soup is seasoned with sour milk and chopped greens.

Kaurmo Shurbo is made with mutton fried in a pot until golden brown and mixed with straw-cut onions, carrots and fry for another five to seven minutes. After that tomatoes cut in small pieces are added. All this is drenched with cold water and cooked until it boils on small fire. About 30 minutes before it's ready potatoes, shredded Bulgarian pepper and spices are added. Cooked shurbo is to be strewn with greens. Boiled meat and potatoes are served separately in a wooden dish.

Atola is made from thinly chopped onions fried in melted sheep fat, and then floured and fried until golden brown. After that the mixture is covered with water and stewed for 8 -10 minutes. The soup is thickened with sour-cream. Before serving it is seasoned with vegetable oil, salt, pepper, spices. Mastoba is a soup made with big pieces of mutton fried with tomatoes and other vegetables. Water is added and the mixture is cooked for 20 minutes. Then rice and katyk are added.

Naryn (soup from horse meat) is made from smoked and fresh mutton, lard and kazy (horsemeat sausage) boiled until ready. After that they are taken out from broth, cooled down and cut into thin pieces. Noodles are boiled in salted water. They are then cooked with the meat, lard, kazy, and browned onion. All this is thrown into the broth and pepper is added. Shavlya (soup with rice) is made with fried mutton pieces cooked in a covered pot with hot water or broth. Salt, pepper, straw-cut carrots are added first, then browned onions and rice are added and the mixture is cooked until it thickens to he right consistency.

Tajik Appetizers, Salads, Vegetable Dishes and Sweets

Vegetables and greens are added to nearly every Tajik dish. Tajiks often serve guests juicy tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, fragrant greens picked directly from their gardens. The markets overflow with eggplants, onions, peppers, carrots, garlic, string beans, potatoes, and fresh fruit. Before the main course Tajiks always treat their guests with vegetable appetizers or salads made with things like young garden radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, rhubarb, fennel, parsley, raikhon and coriander [Source: advantour.com]

Hissar Salad is made with potatoes boiled in their skins and peeled, boiled carrots, boiled meat, cucumbers, and tomatoes— all cut into cubes. Onions are chopped; boiled eggs are sliced. All is mixed, salted, peppered and put in a salad bowl. When served the salad is seasoned with katyk, and decorated with add slices and chopped greens.

Cooked vegetable dishes include eggplants stuffed with vegetables in Tajik fashion. To prepare the vegetable stuffing, fry chopped onions, carrots, fresh tomatoes, greens, and garlic in fat. ready stuffing is put into eggplant halves and the dish is stewed until ready.

Tajik sweets are influenced by Arabs, Persian and Turkish sweets. Among them are twiglets, puffed sweet pies, halvah, crystal sugar (nabat), nishallo (a creamy mass from sugar, whipped egg whites and soaproot), and traditional candies (pichak). Halvaitar (liquid flour halvah) is made with flour is gradually added to pre-heated mutton fat and fried stirred slowly until golden brown in color. Then sugar syrup is added and mixed. When ready the halvah is poured on plates. After it has cooled down it is cut in pieces. Sometimes add almonds, pistachios, other kinds of nuts and vanilla are added.

Huge Melon-Shaped Tea House in Western Tajikistan

In 2015, a huge, melon-shaped tea house was opened in western Tajikistan. The BBC reported: “The eye-catching building, located in the city of Hisor, is said to be 43 meter (141 feet) high and designed to accommodate more than 2,000 people at a time. Described as "magnificent" and "unusual" in a report on state-run Tajik TV First Channel, it was inaugurated by President Emomali Rahmon on Tuesday. The two-storey building is being referred to as the National Tea House, and was built as part of celebrations for the city's 3000th anniversary. "There is no building in the shape of a melon anywhere," one man present at the opening tells the channel, adding that he thinks the tea house is "beautiful". [Source: BBC, October 28, 2015 ^^^]

“That view isn't shared by people commenting online. "When I was driving by this building I thought it was a rugby ball and should be a sports complex," one user writes on the privately-owned Asia-Plus website. Another person doubts that the tea house will ever be full to capacity, describing it as a "useless pompous construction". And several point out that many people in Tajikistan - Central Asia's poorest country - won't have the money to enjoy it. "They're building a tea house with 2,300 seats while people are starving," reads one comment on the Avesta new agency website. "There is window-dressing everywhere." ^^^

“Melons are grown widely in Tajikistan, and are popular throughout Central Asia. Nearby Turkmenistan has even dedicated a special holiday - known simply as Melon Day - to celebrating the fruit's delights. At a recent event in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, President Rahmon showed off the fruits of the country's agricultural labour to officials from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) - including a huge tower of melons in the shape of a tree.” ^^^

Drinks n Tajikistan

The favorite drink of Tajiks is green tea. Tea drinking is a fixture of everyday life and special occasions. No guests reception, meeting of friends or a conversation is complete without a pialah (bowl) of hot tea. Even a dinner starts with tea. Tea pialahs are brought in on trays. In many parts of Tajikistan, people drink green tea in summer and black tea in the winter. As is true throughout Central Asia, tea is usually consumed without sugar. Among other characteristic drinks served are sherbets - fruit drinks with sugar. Tea with milk is called "shirchai". To make this Tajiks put tea in boiling water; then they add boiled milk. After that they add butter and salt. [Source: advantour.com]

Islamic law discourages the consumption of alcoholic beverages, but this prohibition often is ignored. However alcohol is consumed less in Tajikistan than in other Muslim Central Asia countries.

Tea is often enjoyed at a local chaikhana - teahouse. The chaikhana is the place where men of all ages gather and discuss issues that are important in their lives. Customers often sit on platforms with a low table surrounded by thin mats. In the mountains men hang out at teahouses with long wooden benches covered by cushions and carpets. Once a man has had his fill of tea, he turns his empty cup upside down in front of him as an indication that he does not wish to be asked to have more tea - and continues the discussion.

Image Sources:

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.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016


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