When most people think of Uzbekistan their minds immediately go to the awe-inspiring Islamic architecture of the Registan in Samarkand, the towering Kalyan Minaret of Bukhara, or the ancient walled city of Khiva. What you don’t hear much about is food in Uzbekistan.
In fact, when we first arrived we really had little to no idea what we would be eating during our 3 weeks in the country. We quickly learned that traditional Uzbek food can be quite delicious with influences from all over Asia and the Middle East.
Uzbekistan shares much of its culinary tradition with Turkey as well as serving up a wide number of noodle and dumpling dishes that bear a close resemblance to their counterparts in China, Nepal, and other Eastern Asian countries.
Food in Uzbekistan is certainly meat-heavy, and by the end of your trip, you’ll likely be ready for some lighter fare. But while you are journeying along the Silk Road, you should embrace the local Uzbek cuisine. If you’re wondering what to eat in Uzbekistan, you’re in luck. We have compiled a list of 21 dishes you should sample during your Uzbekistan vacation. Yoqimli Ishtaha! (translation: “Bon Appetit!”)
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What to Eat in Uzbekistan: 21 Local Dishes to Try
Plov (sometimes also called “osh”) is widely considered to be the national dish of Uzbekistan. It’s a hearty rice pilaf and you’ll probably notice that the word “plov” and “pilaf” are essentially the same. You can expect a heaping portion of rice that has been cooked together with lamb or beef, onions. garlic, raisins, carrots, and apricots. Plov is not only the most famous dish in Uzbekistan, it is also one of the most delicious.
You’ll find that most restaurants serving Uzbek food offer plov as an option, but if you want to truly experience it you’ll want to head to a “Plov Center” in one of the cities you’re visiting.
These restaurants specialize in plov and cook the dish in gigantic iron cauldrons (called “kazans”) over an open fire. Plov centers generally serve plov and nothing else except for bread, tea, and a selection of side salads to accompany your huge plate of rice pilaf.
Shashlik is simply skewered meat cooked on the grill. The word “shashlik”, in fact, is just the Russian word for “shish kabob”, and this style of cooking became widespread in Central Asia during the time of the far-reaching Russian empire.
All over Uzbekistan you’ll find several options for shashlik including cubes of beef or lamb, chicken legs, “meat rolls” which is a pinwheel of lean and fatty beef, or ground beef (or lamb).
Given that most Uzbeks are Muslim, it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter any pork while you’re in the country. But if you’re lucky you might be offered some shashlik made with horse meat. Also, if you’re feeling overloaded on meat during your time in Uzbekistan you can often order grilled skewers of potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, and peppers.
3. Lagman (Soup)
Lagman (sometimes also spelled “lahg’mon”) is another extremely popular food in Uzbekistan. The most common way that lagman is served is as a hearty noodle stew that includes lamb, onions, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and garlic. The rich broth is also seasoned with cumin seed, parsley, and basil.
The term “lagman” is derived from the Dungan word, “lyumyan” which means to “stretch the dough”, and lagman noodles are typically hand pulled, giving them a deliciously chewy texture that you would pay top dollar for in Italy or Korea.
When in doubt about what to order in Uzbekistan, lagman is generally a great choice especially if it’s cold outside!
4. Fried Lagman
Another wonderful way to enjoy those delicious hand-pulled lagman noodles is stir-fried. The noodles are pan-fried with peppers, onions, tomatoes paste, and whatever other vegetables the kitchen has on hand. It basically tastes like stir-fried spaghetti. And, if you’re lucky, you might find it topped with a fried egg!
Shurpa is an Uzbek lamb soup that you’ll find in almost every eatery in the country. In addition to chunks of lamb, you can expect thick slices of vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and onions. Spices such as fresh dill and parsley are also used to add flavor to the soup.
Shurpa is a great starter to any meal, especially if you’re visiting Uzbekistan during the colder months and need to warm up after a day of exploring the country’s beautiful Islamic architecture.
Dimlama is a robust one-pot stew typically associated with harvest time in Uzbekistan. It’s full of meat (lamb or beef), potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage, peppers, and garlic. To prepare dimlama, all of the ingredients are layered in a deep pan, covered, and simmered for several hours.
If you’re in Uzbekistan in the spring or fall you’ll certainly encounter dimlama as a seasonal special.
Another extremely popular food in Uzbekistan, manti (or “mantu”), are large steamed dumplings filled with ground lamb or beef. Extra fat is often added to the dumplings to enhance the flavor.
They are served with yogurt for dipping, and in Uzbekistan, they are traditionally eaten without utensils so don’t be afraid to dive right in with your hands.
You’ll occasionally encounter manti filled with other great ingredients like potatoes, turnips, or pumpkin, but if the filling is not specified on the menu you can expect meat.
Chuchvara are simply smaller versions of Manti, and these delicious little dumplings can be served steamed (like manti), fried, or in a soup. Of the three we really fell in love with the soup which is quite similar to Chinese wonton soup. It’s especially good when served with a healthy sprinkling of fresh dill on top and is a great starter to any meal in Uzbekistan!
9. Fried Chuchvara
Another popular way to eat chuchvara is fried (you might see this written on the menu as “Qovurma Chuchvara”). Fried chuchvara is a perfect dish for sharing if you’re dining as a large group as they are much easier to eat with your hands than the steamed version. In Uzbekistan, they are often served at weddings or parties.
They’ll come to your table piping hot and are typically dipped in cold yogurt or smetana (sour cream) which makes for the perfect accompaniment to the seasoned meat filling and crispy shell of the chuchvara.
Samsa (also sometimes spelled “samosa”) is another popular style of dumplings in Uzbekistan. Similar to manti, they are filled with lamb or beef and an extra helping of lamb fat for flavor. They are then baked in an oven, resulting in a flaky pastry that is a staple breakfast food in Uzbekistan. In fact, a plate full of samsas and a pot of tea is a very traditional start to a morning in Uzbekistan.
You’ll occasionally encounter potatoe and onion samsa, but generally, you can expect them to be full of the delicious but artery-clogging mix of chopped or ground meat and extra fat.
Achichuk is a simple salad made from sliced tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers. You’ll see it as an option at every Uzbek restaurant, and you’ll surely end up ordering it a time or two during your trip. It’s simple and straightforward but also fresh and delicious.
Charlop (also spelled chalap or chalob) is cold yogurt soup made with cilantro, dill, parsley, radishes, and cucumbers. It’s a nice start to a meal as it’s light and refreshing (though a little bland) especially if you’re visiting Uzbekistan in the summer.
You’ve likely tried dolmas before as they are popular all over the world, especially in Mediterranean and Turkish cuisine.
You may think of dolmas as simply grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice, but the term actually refers to a number of different stuffed dishes. In Uzbekistan, you will often get a variety of different stuffed vegetables including peppers and cabbage leaves when you order dolmas.
14. Shivit Oshi
Shivit oshi is probably the most colorful food in Uzbekistan. The bright green noodles have been infused with dill which makes them both eye-catching and flavorful. They are topped with a stew of meat, peppers, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and carrots and served with a side of yogurt or sour cream.
Shivit oshi is traditionally served in Khiva. It’s actually on the menu of every single restaurant in Khiva’s old city, but you won’t encounter it anywhere else in Uzbekistan
Guzlama is yet another type of dumpling popular in Uzbekistan. These fried dumplings are pressed flat and then fried, giving them a taste closer to a Mexican empanada. We mainly encountered these in Khiva where, like shivit oshi, they were on every single menu.
16. Tukhum Barak
Guess what? More dumplings! Are you detecting a trend in the food in Uzbekistan?
Tukhum barak are filled with a mixture of eggs and milk that tastes a bit like cottage cheese. Sometimes a bit of fried onion is added as well. They are then steamed and served with yogurt for dipping.
You may also find a delicious pumpkin variety. We much preferred it to the cheese variety but it was not as common.
Bread is incredibly important in Uzbekistan. You’ll encounter people selling homemade bread in every market and on many street corners. And Uzbek bread is almost always made in a ring with the center not quite punched out, kind of like an oversized bagel.
Anytime you eat at a restaurant in Uzbekistan and fail to order bread the waiter will look at you like you have grown an extra head. And often they will bring you bread anyways, assuming your order (or lack thereof) was lost in translation.
One of the most interesting parts of the bread culture in Uzbekistan is the number of unique patterns that are stamped onto the bread before it is baked. You’ll actually see a variety of bread stamps available in the markets; they have intricate designs of metal pins inlaid in wooden handles. Pick one up if you’re feeling ambitious and want to start stamping your own bread when you return home from your Uzbekistan holiday.
Suzma is a plain yogurt for dipping your bread. Sometimes you’ll find it has salt added or comes with onions, dill and/or parsley mixed in with it. Suzma is so ubiquitous in Uzbekistan that it often is not even listed on the menu. Simply ask for it along with your bread.
Much like other Arabic countries such as Turkey and Egypt, tea is more than just another beverage in Uzbekistan. Tea represents friendship and hospitality. You’ll likely be offered tea at your guesthouse upon your arrival. And perhaps you’ll be offered it every time you enter or leave your guesthouse.
You’ll rarely be able to order just a cup of tea. It will always come in a teapot along with a stack of small bowls. Uzbeks drink tea out of these bowls rather than teacups. You’ll generally be served one bowl more than the number of people expected to share the pot of tea. The extra bowl is used for mixing the tea when you first receive it.
There are a few steps to properly drink a pot of tea in Uzbekistan. First, you won’t want to drink the tea right away. You should give it a few minutes to let it finish steeping. Second, pour the tea into one of the bowls and then pour it back into the top of the teapot. Repeat this mixing step several times for good measure. Now discard that bowl, no one will actually be drinking out of it.
Finally, distribute the remaining tea bowls and pour everyone else’s tea. It’s customary not to pour your own tea in most countries unless you’re the host. Look around expectantly at everyone enjoying their tea and hope that someone takes the hint and pours you a bowl. If no one seems to take the hint go ahead and pour your own. It’s okay as you’re the host in this situation.
20. Toasted Apricot Seeds
Dried apricots are incredibly popular in Uzbekistan. And of course all the apricots have to have the pits removed. Why not toast all those apricot pits and turn them into a delicious treat?
Toasted apricot seeds are perfect to snack on while drinking a beer. And if you think beer would be uncommon in Uzbekistan due to its predominantly Muslim population you would be wrong. Alcohol is widely available in Uzbekistan and there are actually a number of locally produced wines and beers that you should try while you’re in the country, to go with your toasted apricot seeds of course.
The amount and diversity of desserts in Uzbekistan is pretty mind-blowing. Sugared almonds and peanuts, baklava, various types of fried dough covered in sugar or honey, chunks of rock sugar, dried apricots and figs, we could write an entire post dedicated to Uzbek sweets.
Halva, however, is one that we encountered frequently and loved. It’s a dense fudge-like confection that is popular all across the Middle East and Central Asia. It’s typically made by mixing sesame oil or sunflower seed oil with sugar syrup. It can be flavored with cocoa powder, vanilla, chocolate, and chopped nuts, giving each halva vendor’s recipe a unique flavor and texture.
You’ll find stacks of halva for sale at every major market in Uzbekistan, but our favorite places to shop for it were Chorsu Market in Tashkent and the Siab Bazaar in Samarkand. At either you’ll find endless varieties of Halva to sample and choose from. Just make sure you triple check the prices with a few different vendors to make sure you’re not getting overcharged.
Have a great trip to Uzbekistan!
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