January 24, 2007

While I wait to hear from my wife

who is giving her notice today (and I am waiting by the phone, unable to concentrate, and consumed with and by concern for my bride), I give you the following. Make what you wish of it:

Plov or Osh, the Uzbek version of "pilaff" ("pilav"), is the flagship of their cookery. 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 oshpaz, or master chief, often cooks plov over an open flame, sometimes serving up to 1000 people from a single cauldron on holidays or occasions such as weddings. It certainly takes years of practice with no room for failure to prepare a dish, at times, containing up to 100 kilograms of rice.


Plov is or should be, Vodka free.

There are so many ways to cook plov; some say there are 200, others-1200. But the main ingredients such as meat, rice, onion, carrot and oil remain unchanged. Then the fantasy sets in: plov with quince, with Turkish pea, barberry, eggs and pomegranate. Classical plov can be light in color (sometimes cal led Samarkand plov) and dark (Ferghana). The second one is heavier, but the taste! By the way, the real men's plov only can be dark. First peculiarity You should never drink vodka after plov. You can drink it before, but no way after. Only green tea and such is the tradition; very sensible tradition, mind you. Because only a very healthy person can drink a 40% alcoholic drink after heavy plov. In Central Asia if not every person, then every second can cook plov. Some better, some worse. But when it's necessary to feed the whole crowd of guests for example on a wedding, you'd better call oshpaz. The work of this master will cost a lot and basically he doesn't cook himself, but co ordinates his assistants.

When oshpaz goes to buy ingredients for plov, it is a comedy, which every person is ready to come and see if it is possible. I once have witnessed how one oshpaz, surrounded by the army of his assistants, was choosing rice. He slowly moved from one seller to another in the market, holding a bit of rice, smelling it, saying something to himself, and the throwing it back. All the vendors were very nervous; they were hiding something under their tents and putting something out. If oshpaz buys rice at a pi ace, then it's the best advertisement and this seller will have success in trade for some time, it is important to notice that a good plov can be made only from rice of the recent harvest, if it's from last year, then you can cook something that looks like plov.

Second peculiarity
If you have never lived in Central Asia then I need to explain what "gap" means, it's translated from Uzbek as "the talk", but it has a slang meaning - chat. However in Central Asia this word is used to define a small friendly party held for some reason or without any. And "gap" is a thing for men and usually it takes place not in the houses but in choykhonas (tea houses) or some other places. Plov at "gap" is cooked by the participants themselves and not by the master.

One of my foreign friends who lives in Uzbekistan recalls how they were cooking men's plov: while the person appointed as the chief cook was preparing meat, all the others were cutting onions, carrots and Namangan reddish. The secret of men's plov is: when the cook takes out the cracklings from kazan, there is still a little bone left on cooking in the kazan. This bone gives plov that noble yellow-brownish color and the taste of real men's food. Now every thing is ready and we are ready to taste plov. The cook has to finish some magi n tricks and this is the most difficult moment. Firstly, because others will be giving him vodka to drink and if he will partakes then he will spoil the plov. Secondly, all the drinking people are eager to steal a piece of onion or meat, and he is waving with his Kapkir (skimmer) on them, yelling, that no good plov can be prepared this way.

Third peculiarity
"Oshi Nahor" - morning plov, is one of the elements of Central Asian family traditions. There are millions of guests invited and tables usually are set in the house and not in the yard. The activity takes place from about 6 to 9 a.m. New guests are seated right away on free seats by the young helpers. After three minutes you see green tea at your table and after another five-plov. But if you refuse to come to "oshi nahor" the hosts will consider that you don't respect them, in the season of weddings, you might get a number of invitations for "oshi nahor" in a day.

Again, one of my American friends told me how he had four invitations. All of them were in different parts of the city. He was traveling from 5:30am and by eight he was able to pass al ready 2 plovs. At third plov he couldn't eat and was just sitting there quietly drinking tea. But someone noticed that he wasn't eating and told the master. The master appeared next to him. He was forced to eat. It was a real torture for him to think about the fourth plov, but knowing Uzbek traditions and respecting the people who invited him, he finally went there. He was forcing himself to eat fourth plov. "I thought I would die, or even that I wouldn't be able to stand up and get to the car" - says Michael. But somehow he managed to get to the car and asked the driver to turn the air conditioner on. Slowlo, he came to his work. During the day, one of his colleagues came in saying: It's my father's jubilee today and he is cooking lots of plov. Please, come to my pi ace today.


We now return to being a Plov free zone.

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