Archive for October, 2014

The tastes of Central Asia.

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

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The food in this part of the world is unique, not just the recipes but also the ingredients.

The Silk Road was the melting pot of eastern and western cultures so it’s only to be expected that their cuisines also amalgamated to create something distinctive.

Lagma, a dish of noodles and meat, really begs the question as to where Spaghetti Bolognese came from and did pasta come from the east or west?

We ate dumplings that looked more like ravioli and Plov that’t somewhere between fried rice and Risotto.

The vegetables, herbs and spices combine to reward the palate in a way that I have not experienced before.

I am sure that this comes down to the fact that most of the food here, especially in the country areas, is unspoiled by herbicides, pesticides and other man made interventions.

We have been to countless markets and been overwhelmed by the aromas of the spice stalls and the faultless fruits and vegetables.

This perfect storm of taste and aesthetics results in meals that are both simple and remarkable in their delivery.

Their salads have been influenced by Chinese, Korean, Russian and European cuisines, yet they are nothing like you would find in Shanghai, Seoul, Moscow or Madrid.

The tomatoes are deep red and so full of flavor that all you need is a touch of salt and a drop of oil to create a mouth watering delight.

We were told by our guide in Khiva that it’s due to the high salt content of the soil that the Uzbek tomatoes are so sweet and flavorsome.

The herbs come fresh from the market, where they are expertly blended by the stall holders to your exact requirements.

Fruits, both fresh and dried, are in abundance.

Sultanas, apricots, raisins, melons, plums, figs, dates, pomegranates and berries are piled high in the market stalls. The vendors are very happy for you to try whatever you like and rarely pressure you to buy.

We were offered walnuts straight from the tree and strawberries fresh from the field.

The delightful result of this bountiful harvest ends up in the local restaurants, so you don’t just get to see and smell it in the markets, you get to taste it on your plate.

A fly on the wall.

Monday, October 27th, 2014

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We are tourists and no matter how hard we try to integrate into a new culture or country we are still sitting in the audience – we are never on the stage.

We were in Uzbekistan for sixteen days and had been invited to at least five weddings.

Our guide in Samarkand told us that it was common for foreigners to be invited to join the celebrations.

It’s easy to understand why, as you are treated like a celebrity, wherever you go. This isn’t because you are, it’s just that the Uzbeks want to make you feel welcome.

Weddings play an enormous part in social life and are grand affairs. A small one might have 300 guests but it’s not uncommon to have more than a thousand. This is a huge expense, for all concerned, yet there is no hesitation in inviting a few more, especially if they’re Westerners.

Groups of school and university age kids want to be photographed with you and also want to take your snap.

The same groups are just as happy to spend time practicing their English.

Even when you approach older citizens they rarely refuse the opportunity to have their photo taken.

We can only sit on the sidelines and enjoy the view, but what a great and entertaining view it is.

On our last night in Samarkand we went to one of their best restaurants. This wasn’t full of tour groups but packed with locals, determined to have a great night out.

One of the by-products of the Russian, Soviet eras was the introduction of alcohol into a predominately Muslim society. On the whole they choose moderation over excessiveness, unlike their former colonial masters. The result is good humoured fun.

The venue was a huge palace with a large ground floor area full of party goers. The band was loud and the atmosphere vibrant.

There were no seats on the main floor so we went up to the first floor, where there were small rooms on a surrounding balcony.

The waiter thought that we wanted peace and quiet and insisted on shutting the door.

We opened the doors and had a wonderful Dress Circle view of the spectacle below.

At the end of the night we returned to our hotel and the locals went home.

The show was over for us but for the people of Samarkand, it was just another Friday night.

Adventurers not tourists.

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Alone but not lonely

In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan we met two travellers who proved to me just how easily we do our touring.

One was at the Ala-Archa Gorge. He was a Spaniard, from Alicante, who was cycling, yes riding a bicycle, from South East Asia to Spain, via the Silk Road.

He had set up his tent and was settling down for the night, with a bottle of water and some food.

The temperature was dropping and we were heading back to our warm car that was taking us back to our warm hotel, where we would be able to get a cold beer.

We must have looked worried, because as we walked away he called after us:

“I am alone but I’m not lonely.”

The other was a Brit, who had just ridden a motorcycle from Bergen in Norway to Osh in Kyrgyzstan.

We met him at dinner and he was celebrating having a comfortable bed, a good meal and a cold beer.

Something we take for granted most nights.

He had left his bike in Osh with the intent of returning next year to continue his travels.

I am absolutely humbled by their spirit.

They are adventurers, we are just tourists.

Our trip so far.

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

I have written 14 blogs and taken over 3,000 snaps, but not been able to publish a thing.

The internet has been so poor in Hong Kong, Guilin, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Lanzhou, Jiayuguan, Yangshuo, Turpan, Urumqi, Almaty, Bishkek, Cholpon-Ata, Arslanbob, Osh, Fergana and now Tashkent, that I will have to resort to this map, from iPhoto, showing where we have been.

Hopefully we will get a good connection soon and I can start to post for real.

Our trip so far