Perfect Pasta, Silk Road Style
In terms of time, Central Asian pasta beats out Italian pasta by at least 1,500 years. That’s an extra millennium-and-a-half of perfecting recipes and satisfying hungry stomachs with pasta.
Oodles of noodles in the Tashkent market
Photo credit: Lindsay Fincher
Gastronomic BeginningsCentral Asian dumplings called manty have been eaten for 2,500 years, the wheat originally prepared with a grindstone. Mouth-watering manty resemble Chinese wontons or Italian ravioli, made of steamed wheat flour dough filled with spiced beef or mutton. Uzbek versions include vegetarian varieties with diced pumpkin, squash, or mashed potatoes. The word manty is derived from “man tou,” which means “barbarian heads” – likely referring to their crimped edges. These dumplings are often eaten with spoonfuls of yogurt.
Manty garnished with dollops of yogurt
Photo credit: Michel Behar
Popular Pasta Across the GlobeManty was an ideal food for nomads: easy to preserve and easy to carry. Its popularity spread to places from Mongolia, Korea, and Japan to Central Asia and Turkey.
In far-flung Siberia these dumplings are called pozy, and in Tibet the name is momo. The Tatars spread manty into Eastern Europe, where they’re known as pierogi in Poland and vareniki in Ukraine. In Slavic countries this dish is served with a clotted cream called smetana, while in Turkey it’s called kaymak.
Five-Fingered PastaAnother popular Central Asian pasta dish is beshbarmak, which means “five fingers” in Turkish, because the locals use all their fingers when they consume it. My favorite Central Asian pasta? It’s got to be beshbarmak – not just because it’s a real hands-on experience, but it’s delicious as well. I love the lasagna version in Medeo, Kazakhstan as well as the spaghetti variation near Burana, Kyrgyzstan.
A plate of homemade beshbarmak, smothered with savory broth and slow-cooked lamb
Photo credit: David Parker
More than anything else on our MIR tours, I love stopping by the house of world-renowned Uzbek ceramicist Rustam Usmanov in Rishtan, where we tour his pottery workshop and then dine on his family’s savory homemade manty.
Dining in a private home in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Photo credit: Michel Behar
Travel to Central Asia with MIRYou can taste these popular pasta dishes almost anywhere you go in Central Asia.
MIR has 30 years of travel experience in Central Asia and has an affiliate office in Uzbekistan. We have 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 has twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
You can visit Central Asia in a number of ways: on a small group tour, on a rail journey by private train, or on an independent trip put together just the way you want it.
Top Photo: A plate of perfectly folded manty, ready to eat. Photo credit: David Parker
PUBLISHED: November 23, 2015