Alcohol is part of daily life for many people in Uzbekistan — particularly Russians. The Soviets introduced vodka and other alcoholic drinks and today it forms a part of the culture; only the strictest Muslims refrain from drinking alcohol. The Uzbeks have a long tradition of drinking. A British traveler in 1900 commented that he was expected to drink a pint of brandy with every meal less his host “appeared greatly hurt.”

For Muslims, Uzbeks can be surprisingly big drinkers. Some Uzbeks drink quite heavily and are capable of downing just as much vodka as an Russians. Koumiss (fermented mare’s milk) is available but is not as common as elsewhere in Central Asia. It is more of a Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Mongolian — nomadic herder — thing. Remember Uzbeks are settled farmers and traders.

Most of the alcohol that is available is vodka, beer sweet wine and sweet champagne. If you buy vodka try to get it at a state-run store. Vodka sold at other places may be dicey or even dangerous moonshine. The beer and vodka are often Russian. Shakhrisyabz wine is a sweet Iranian-style wine.

Kazakhs and Kyrgyz like a thick, yeasty, slightly fizzy concoction called bozo, made from boiled fermented millet or other grains.Turkmen, Kazakh and Karakalpak nomads like shubat (fermented camel’s milk). Camel’s milk can be fermented because it has a high sugar content. [Source: advantour]

Uzbek Drinking and Toasting Customs

Uzbeks often drink vodka from porcelain tea bowls. Sometimes a moderate amount of alcohol is consumed. Sometimes huge amounts are. Toasting is sometimes a big deal. Some social gatherings and parties seem to be an endless stream of toasts and speeches. Philip Glazebrook wrote: at the party “there was less conversation than speech-making. First comes the formal addresses made to me by each of our three Uzbek hosts, which followed the well-trodden path through parleyers of welcome and good wishes to the fountain of vodka at which a toast could be proposed and bowls thirstily emptied.”

At large gatherings, every guest takes his turn as toast master. The toast master stands up, his glass of vodka in hand and delivers a short speech, which ideally includes the following elements: thank you, praise of the host, something witty, and best wishes to all for health and prosperity. Then everybody clinks their glasses in the center of the table and drinks (you may be expected to not leave anything in your glass). When invited to a banquet it is advisable to rapidly lay a strong foundation of bread and cheese since the first toast will be given within minutes.

According to Oriental Express Central Asia: You should never drink vodka after plov. You can drink it before, but under no circumstances afterwards. Only green tea and such is the tradition; a very sensible tradition, mind you, since only a very healthy person can drink a 40 percent alcoholic drink after a heavy plov. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia |~|]

Tea in Uzbekistan

Uzbeks are big tea drinkers. They like green tea and tea and tend to drink it straight without sugar from a bowl or a glass, not a cup. Uzbeks in Uzbekistan rarely put milk in their tea. Black tea is popular among Russians, and people in tashkent, Samarkand and Urgench. In Karakalpakstan people drink tea, both black and green, with milk. In China, perhaps because of the influence of Tibet, Uzbeks often drink milk in their tea. While drinking tea with milk, Uzbeks in Xinjiang (western China) pour the tea with milk into a bowl, and add some butter, mutton fat, or pepper, and drink it.

All meal generally start and ends with tea. Tea is offered first as a welcoming gesture to guests and there is whole set of rules, customs and mores surrounding the preparation, offering and consumption of tea. Both green tea and black tea are seldom consumed with milk or sugar. An entire portion of Uzbek food culture is foods served with tea. These include samsa, bread, halva, and various fried foods. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia |~|]

Green tea is called kuk-choy. Black tea is called kora-choy. Uzbek tea with sugar has its own name — kand-choy. Frequently various herbs and spices are added to Uzbek tea. To make kok choi: rinse out china teapot with a bit of boiling water. Add half a liter of boiling water and one teaspoon of green tea. Pour one or two cups, return to teapot and cover. To make kora choi: rinse out china teapot with a bit of boiling water. Add half a liter of boiling water and one teaspoon black tea. Pour one or two cups, return to teapot and cover. [Source: eurasia.travel ]

Tea with kaimak (sour cream) is called shirinchoi. To make it you need: a half cup of water, a half cup of milk, 1 teaspoon butter, 2 teaspoons kaimak, black tea, salt, pepper. Add tea to boiling water and reduce heat. Then add boiled milk, salt. Pour into teacups and add butter and kaimak, sprinkle with pepper. Serve hot.

Uzbek Tea Houses

Uzbekistan is filled with chaykhana, teahouses patronized almost exclusively by men. People sometimes remove their shoes when entering a tea house. Local women never enter teahouses. According to Oriental Express Central Asia: “The "chaykhana" (teahouse) is a cornerstone of traditional Uzbek society. Always shaded, preferably situated near a cool stream, the chaykhana is a gathering place for social interaction and fraternity. Robed Uzbek men congregate around low tables centered on beds adorned with ancient carpets, enjoying delicious plov, kebab and endless cups of green tea. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia |~|]

Male social activity revolves around chaykhanas. Most towns have several “chaikhana” tea stalls, where men hang out. “If you have never lived in Central Asia, I need to explain what "gap" means, it's translated from Uzbek as "talk", but it has a slang meaning - chat. However, in Central Asia this word is used to define a small friendly party held for any reason. A "gap" is an event for men and usually it takes place not in houses but in chaykhanas or some other place. Plov at a "gap" is cooked by the participants themselves and not by a master. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia |~|]

Uzbek Tea Drinking Customs

In any house a guest will be offered a piala (bowl) of tea. Green tea is the sign of hospitality. The brew should be served from a warm teapot. The teapot is filled halfway with boiled water half and held over steam until the teapot is filled up to three fourths of volume, and in two to three minutes up to the brim. The hospitable host brews the tea himself, pours in piala and gives to guests. [Source: eurasia.travel]

When guests visit an Uzbek house, the host of the house pours the tea. A peculiar element of Uzbek hospitality is that only a amount of tea is poured, with the honored guest receiving the least of all. The reason for this that the more a guest asks for something from the host and the more the more complies, the better. This reflects on respect towards the house and hospitality by the host. If tea remains in the bottom of the piala (tea bowl), the host pours it out and again fills the piala with tea. [Source: orexca.com |~|]

During the Uzbek tea ceremony, tea is poured from ceramic pots into small piala bowls. The precious liquid is poured into the clean piala of the host and poured back into the chainik (teapot). This is repeated three times. The fourth time round, a half filled cup is offered in the guest's piala, allowing for the tea to cool down rapidly so as to quench one's thirst immediately. A bowl filled to the brim goes against all standards of hospitality and good form. Tea is served with homemade jam or honey, which acts as a sweetener. |~|

Koumiss and Uzbek Sour Milk Dishes

Although the Uzbeks traditionally were not nomads, some nomadic customs are found in their food and drink. Uzbek sour milk have part of Uzbek food culture for a long time. Due to the hot climate ancient Uzbek people fermented milk to preserve it. Uzbeks are particularly fond of sour milk soups, which are divided into vegetarian and meat, cold and hot varieties. [Source: advantour]

The most popular Uzbek sour milk products are katyk (sour milk) and suzma (a type of cottage cheese), kurt (ball made from sour milk, flavored with salt and pepper), kaymak (thick cream). These products can be eaten plain or added to Uzbek dishes. Uzbek sour milk dishes include kurtoba ( a soup made from kurt, melted butter and crackers).

Ayran is a cold beverage made of sour milk or yogurt, spring water, spiced with herbs. To make it mix one oart yoghurt or suzma, two parts cups water, and add salt and other spices according to taste. Serve on ice.

Some Uzbeks drink koumiss — fermented mare’s milk, a mildly (2 percent to 3 percent) alcoholic drink — more commonly associated with Kazakhs, Mongolians and Kyrgyz and other nomadic people. It is generally available only in spring and summer, when mares are foaling, and takes around three days to ferment. The milk is put into a chelek (wooden bucket or barrel) and churned with a wooden plunger called a bishkek (from which the Kyrgyzstan city gets its name). Locals will tell you that koumiss cures everything from a cold to tuberculosis but drinking too much of it may give you diarrhea. The best koumiss comes from the herders themselves; the stuff available in the cities is sometimes diluted with cow’s milk or water. [Source: advantour]

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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.

Last updated April 2016

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