Welcome to Uzbekistan, one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world. Like Lichtenstein in Europe, Uzbekistan is a landlocked country surrounded by landlocked countries.
None of the country’s rivers lead to the ocean, and the Aral Sea – once the Earth’s fourth largest inland sea – has shrunk to less than half its former size volume over the past few decades.
Iranian, Arab, Indian, Russian and Chinese cuisine all influence the local fare, and traditional dishes are pretty heavy on the meat. Plov (also known as osh) is the national dish: a hearty rice pilaf that’s heavy on the lamb or beef, and comes with added onions, garlic, raisins, carrots and apricots. Legend holds that it was invented by the cooks of Alexander the Great and, even today, the dish is considered so integral to national cuisine that almost every large population centre has a sort of ‘plov district’, with restaurants specialising in nothing but plov, plov, and more plov – all cooked up in huge iron cauldrons (called kazan) over an open fire.
Soups are also pretty hearty in Uzbekistan: lagman is loaded with meat, spices, potatoes, pasta and vegetables, and can contain up to 50 ingredients; mastava is packed with rice, carrots, tomatoes, onions, peas and wild plums; and shurpa is made from fatty meat (usually mutton; as a predominantly Sunni Muslim country, pork is generally off the menu) and fresh vegetables.
There’s also manti (large, steamed dumplings stuffed with ground lamb or beef, and laced with fat); dimlama (a robust, one-pot stew of meat, potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage, peppers and garlic); and shashlik, kebabs of beef, lamb, chicken or possibly horse meat. In fact, it’s all pretty filling fare here in Uzbekistan – but that’s exactly what you’d expect from a cold, landlocked nation… In winter, much of the country is subjected to temperatures as low as −30C, and it’s all systems go for some hearty plov!