MIR’s Uzbekistan & Silk Road Expertise Spotlighted in AFAR Magazine
Anya von Bremzen is an award-winning food writer and the author of such delectable cookbooks as Please to the Table and Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. A passionate foodie, world traveler, and expert on the cultures and cuisines of Russia and the former Soviet Republics, Anya fell in love with the country of Uzbekistan in Central Asia on a trip there in the early 1990s, when it was still a part of the Soviet Union. Ever since that first visit, she dreamed of one day making her return to the Silk Road.
After two decades of waiting, news of Uzbekistan’s progressive political and economic changes made over the last few years ultimately convinced Anya that now was the perfect time to revisit, as she writes in the November/December issue of AFAR Magazine:
“For decades, politics put on hold any possible repeat of that dream visit…When [former president Islam] Karimov finally died, in 2016, he was replaced by the reform-minded Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who talked of an “Uzbek spring” for his country of 31 million. Uzbekistan began to loosen up and court Western investors and tourists. I’d heard about e-visas; a newly hospitable vibe; boutique hotels; and a bullet train connecting Tashkent with the historic Silk Route centers of Bukhara and Samarkand. Finally, it seemed, the moment was ripe for return.”
Anya reached out to MIR to plan her weeklong sojourn through the Silk Road — a custom-made sampler of Uzbekistan’s vibrant culture, tastes, and traditions. She explored both the modern capital of Tashkent and the celebrated city of Samarkand, but most impressive to her was Uzbekistan’s breathtaking 2,500-year-old oasis, Bukhara:
“A four-hour ride on the bullet train from Tashkent takes us to the Kyzylkum (Red Sand) Desert of southern Uzbekistan. The oasis city of Bukhara is no hulking Soviet metropolis. An ancient pillar of Uzbek religion and learning, this is Central Asia’s Florence. Omar Khayyam, the Persian astronomer and poet credited with writing the Rubaiyat, walked its streets in the 11th century; Avicenna, the father of medicine in the Islamic Golden Age, was born nearby.”
She was thrilled by the exotic colors and flavors of Uzbek food, especially in the country’s national dish, plov:
“Now it’s lunchtime. Plov time! We drive across town to join the workaday crowds at the Central Asian Plov Center, a dining space the size of a convention hall…Outside the dining hall sit the world’s largest kazans, wok-like vessels inset over fire for cooking hundreds of pounds of the cumin-intensive yellow-hued rice. Plov oshpaz (masters) tend the kazans with long, giant spatulas, while assistants feverishly chop lamb shanks, kazi (horse sausage), quail, and other toppings. Inside, a waitress rushes the plov to our table along with flatbreads, pickles, and an iridescent-jade radish salad. At a nearby table, green-uniformed cops gulp green tea from dainty blue-and-white bowls called pialas beneath massive white columns and long scarlet window curtains. The colors!”
Dazzled by the local arts and crafts, Anya was given an opportunity to visit the workshop of one of Bukhara’s best-known masters of suzani, the exquisite embroidered coverlets that Uzbekistan is known for:
“At dinnertime, we walk through a humble doorway in the old Jewish quarter. It opens onto the multilevel home and workshop of Rakhmon Toshev, an internationally renowned master of suzani, the intricately hand-embroidered textiles I covet. Son of a ganch craftsman, the burly Toshev is a former road engineer and carpenter (he built this house himself) who learned the labor-intensive craft of suzani (the name comes from the word for needle in Persian) from his grandmother.
“Toshev invites us to a dining table set up in a display room where his suzanis hang from the high ceiling, drape the furniture, and cover the floor. They are vivid with images of pomegranates, birds, boughs, and flowers. Toshev explains that in the post-Soviet era, Uzbeks rediscovered the sources of natural dyes. His elegant mustardy yellow comes from walnut and pomegranate skins, and his grayish blue from boiled mulberries. As we eat a majestic lamb and quince pilaf garnished with quail eggs, in an adjacent studio Toshev’s daughter, Nasiba, is finishing up the intricate chain stitching and detailing on one of Toshev’s more modest designs, which take about 15 days to make.”
Anya likes to experience a country as the locals do, with authentic and intimate encounters all along the way. With MIR tour manager and Uzbek native Abdu Samadov by her side, she was able to experience the country in a way that few travelers have an opportunity to do. Abdu’s expertise and extensive local connections were invaluable, especially when it came to organizing unique, on-the-spot activities like a chance invite to a traditional Uzbek wedding:
“Wedding invites materialize, but the timing is all wrong, and I’m on the verge of despair when Abdu runs into a friend, a celebrated master of the doira, a beautiful, musically serious relative of the tambourine. He and his assistant are playing a wedding that evening. And just like that, we’re on the guest list.”
You can read Anya’s full article online at AFAR.com, or head to your newsstands and flip to page 94 in the November/December 2019 issue of AFAR Magazine.
Explore the Cultural & Culinary Traditions of Uzbekistan
Experience the brilliant colors and flavors of Uzbekistan on MIR’s Backstreets & Bazaars of Uzbekistan small group tour, led by the same tour manager Anya had on her travels, Abdu Samadov.
You’ll explore the exciting tastes and ancient architecture of three of the most celebrated Silk Road oases – Bukhara, Khiva, and Samarkand – along with the modern capital of Tashkent. Celebrate Navruz, the Central Asian New Year, with locals as they welcome you into their homes and communities, and discover the enduring traditions and abundant hospitality essential to everyday Uzbek culture.
- Celebrating Navruz in Uzbekistan: My Favorite Moments on a Festive Journey
- Learn from the Locals: Navruz in Uzbekistan
- A Traveler’s Tale: The Art of Home-Made Plov in Bukhara, Uzbekistan (VIDEO)
- Making Ikats: Colors of the Silk Road (VIDEO)
- Secrets of Samarkand: How to Explore Uzbekistan’s “Crossroad of Culture” Like a Local
- A Walk Through Old Town Khiva, Uzbekistan (VIDEO)
- Breathtaking Bukhara: Your Guide to Uzbekistan’s UNESCO-listed Oasis
- Enthralling Uzbekistan: Our Favorite Things to See & Do
- There’s Never Been a Better Time to Travel to Uzbekistan
- Good Manners in Central Asia: At the Table
Why Travel to Uzbekistan with MIR?
MIR has more than 30 years of travel experience in Central Asia and has an affiliate office in Uzbekistan, with a roster of contacts that can take you to places that you didn’t even know you wanted to go. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
MIR also specializes in personalized, private journeys, and we’d love to take your ideas and weave them into a trip tailored especially for you. Travel wherever, however, and with whomever you like, relying on our expert assistance. Contact us to find out more about our custom and private travel expertise – each trip handcrafted to your interests, dates and pace.
Chat with a MIR destination specialist about travel to Uzbekistan by phone (1-800-424-7289) or email today.
Top photo: Admiring the incredible Timurid tilework at the Registan in Samarkand. Photo credit: Michel Behar.
PUBLISHED: October 21, 2019