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Unlike its nomadic neighbours, Uzbeks had a settled civilization for generations and, as such, developed a particularly distinctive cuisine. Between the deserts and mountains, in the oasis and fertile valleys, they cultivated grain and domesticated livestock and the resulting abundance of products allowed the Uzbeks to express their strong tradition of hospitality, which in turn enriched their cuisine.
The seasons, specifically winter and summer, greatly influence the composition of the basic menu. In the summer, fruits, such as grapes, melons, watermelons, apricots, pears, apples, cherries, pomegranates, lemons, persimmons, quinces and figs, grow in abundance as do vegetables including some lesser known species such as green radishes, yellow carrots, dozens of varieties of pumpkin and squash, in addition to the more common eggplants, peppers, turnips, cucumbers and tomatoes.
The winter diet traditionally consists of dried fruits and vegetables and preserves. Hearty noodle or pasta-type dishes are also common chilly-weather fare.
In general, mutton is the preferred source of protein in the Uzbek diet. 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.
Uzbek dishes are not notably spicy, though certainly full of flavour. Some of the principle spices used are black cumin, red and black peppers, barberries, coriander, and sesame seeds. The more common herbs are fresh coriander, dill, parsley, celeriac, and basil. Other seasonings include wine vinegar, liberally applied to salads and marinades, and fermented milk products.
A wide array of breads, leavened and unleavened, is a staple for the majority of the population. Flat bread, or ïîï and lepyoshka, is usually baked in tandoor ovens and served with tea and at every meal. Some varieties are prepared with onions or meat in the dough and 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 - katyk, or yogurt made from sour milk, and suzma, strained clotted milk similar to cottage cheese, are eaten plain, in salads, or added to soups and main products, resulting in a unique and delicious flavour.
Plov or Osh, the Uzbek version of "pilaff", is the staple of Uzbek diet. It consists mainly of fried and boiled meat, onions, carrots and rice, with raisins, barberries, chickpeas, or fruit added for variation. Uzbek men pride themselves on their ability to prepare the most unique and sumptuous plov. The osh-paz, or master chef, often cooks plov over an open flame, sometimes serving up to 1000 people from a single cauldron on holidays or occasions such as weddings.
Tea is revered in the finest oriental traditions. It is offered to every guest and there exists a whole subset of mores surrounding the preparation, offering and consuming of tea. Green tea is the drink of hospitality and is predominant in the country. Black tea is preferred in Tashkent, though both teas are seldom taken with milk or sugar. An entire portion of Uzbek cuisine is dedicated solely to tea drinking. Some of these include samsa, bread, halva, and various fried foods.
The "choyhona" (teahouse) is a cornerstone of traditional Uzbek society. Always shaded, preferably situated near a cool stream, the choyhona is a gathering place for social interaction and fraternity. Robed Uzbek men congregate around low tables centred on beds adorned with ancient carpets, enjoying delicious plov, kebabs and endless cups of green tea.
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