Located along the ancient Silk Roads, Uzbekistan has a wealth of influences in its architecture, its people, and especially its food. In exploring the culture and dishes of this central Asian country, Anthony Bourdain encounters flavors and tastes from around the region and beyond as he prepares to attend a traditional Uzbek wedding.
Anthony Bourdain visited Uzbekistan to film season 1 (episode 8) of his show No Reservations; it was his only on-screen visit to this former Soviet state and epicenter for incredible architecture, culture, and food. Even if you’ve never been to Central Asia, you’ve probably seen pictures of Uzbekistan – and it’s exciting to see it through Tony’s eyes and what he tastes.
Whether you’re planning a trip to Uzbekistan too or just curious about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Uzbekistan, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, you’ll find a full list of the known and named places Tony ate, as well as a few unnamed spots. (If you know where they are, please let me know in the comments!
Starting off in the capital of Tashkent, Anthony Bourdain and companion Zamir Gotta first dine at a restaurant referred to as ‘Jumanji’, but that seems in appearance to resemble Chigatoy Shashlik.
Here we are introduced to the fusion style local staples of lepeshka (traditional local bread baked in a clay oven), lagman (a noodle soup of beef chuck, garlic, tomato paste, vegetables, and cumin which wears its Chinese origin firmly on its sleeve), tandoor lamb chops (an Indian staple), roasted chicken legs, before the centerpiece of shashlik, lamb kebabs marinated in herbs and wine overnight before being cooked over hot coals and served with vegetables.
Bochka (formerly Aleko)
Their stomachs suitably filled, Bourdain and Zamir move onto the Aleko restaurant (now called Bochka) and belly dancing club, for a decidedly non-local Jamaican Kiss cocktail (a blend of rum, coffee liqueur, and milk).
The following day, Zamir takes Tony to a chaikana in the nearby city of Parkent just an hour’s drive outside the city. A style of traditional teahouse, a chaikana is an institution in Uzbekistan and serves as a meeting point for the community.
Bourdain is instructed in the art of proper tea etiquette, to pour in and out of the cup three times, and most importantly to never serve a full cup to a guest (which would be seen as an invitation for them to leave).
Unknown Roadside Restaurant
Leaving the Tashkent region, Tony and Zamir begin their trip to Samarkand, with a stop en route in the roadside town of Jizzakh. There they enjoy an admittedly dubious-looking lunch of room-temperature tandoori lamb cuts is placed in front of them. Remembering the cardinal rule of “Do not offend your host,” Bourdain samples a plate of various cuts, including ribs, loin, brains, and sliced liver. With a quick stop to witness the natural beauty of Timur Darvaza (Timur’s Gates), our heroes continue their journey.
Arriving in Samarkand, Anthony again sees the range of influences on display. A mix of Turkish, Persian, Mongol, Arab, western & eastern cultures come together to create a unique beauty. Following a now infamous visit to a traditional Uzbek spa, where Tony experiences a truly bone-cracking massage, and a trip to a local bazaar for last-minute gifts, it’s time for the wedding itself.
Private Wedding Party
A traditional Uzbek wedding starts with a pre-wedding breakfast meal where the father of the groom feeds all the neighborhood men. Despite this being a morning affair, Bourdain and Zamir are soon drinking shots of vodka as they toast the occasion. Thankfully, a meal consisting of more lepeshka is on hand, together with plov, a pilaf-style dish made up of long grain rice, tender chunks of beef, onions, and carrots that is considered Uzbekistan’s national dish.
Hot tea is served as a digestive, and Zamir explains that a cold drink after such a heavy meal could cause unnecessary stomach disturbances… something best avoided ahead of a wedding.
Finally, after gifts are given to the bride and groom and speeches follow, Anthony reflects on the important role food plays in Uzbek culture. Lepeshka is placed inside the groom’s jacket to signify abundance, a rich life, and to bring luck, whilst the bride and groom suck honey from each other’s fingers to symbolize the sweetness of life. The reception ends as it began, with more plov served, washed down by many, many shots of vodka.
As with many of his episodes with Zamir, Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Uzbekistan is a bit different than other destinations with more restaurants and less narrative adventure. Nevertheless, this episode certainly sells the unique beauty of Uzbekistan and the fascinating foods you can try there.
Have any questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Uzbekistan or the foods he ate? Or can you fill in the gap on some of the unnamed places he ate? Let me know in the comments below!