Where: Central Asia
Tastes: Fatty, oftened skewered and grilled or stewed. The whole sheep is utilised.
Serving suggestions: Enjoy a freshly slaughtered prov (stew) or suck politely on a sheep’s eyeball – a real delicacy
Mutton (commonly refered to as lamb in the west) is ubiquitous in Uzbekistan. It’s the preferred meat of Central Asia and wherever you are it’s hard to escape the smell of fatty chunks of meat cooking in the open air.
Rice, noodles and naan bread are also important staples in the Central Asian diet. Foods tend to be mildly seasoned and are influenced by Chinese, Indian and Mediterranean cuisine.
Origins and history
Traditional recipes simply list ‘meat’ as an ingredient, because in days of old there used to be only one kind of meat in Central Asia, and that was mutton. These days beef, veal and poultry are becoming more commonplace, but mutton will always have a special place in the hearts and stomachs of the people.
The nomads of Central Asia embarked upon their long-standing relationship with mutton more than 10,000 years ago, when began to use sheep skin and wool for clothing, as well as making a tasty meal from their flesh.
Sheep’s head is a great delicacy in Central Asia, and if you’re staying in a local home don’t be surprised if it’s served up in your honour. The sheep’s eye is the best bit, and is always reserved for the visitor. Even if the very thought turns your stomach it would be incredibly rude to refuse. You should at least try a nibble.
Locals usually buy a sheep at the market and slaughter it themselves. Central Asian mutton is very fatty, and sheep’s value is gauged by weighing up the amount of fat on the animal’s haunches with your hands. The globules of fat wedged between lumps of meat on the skewer are actually the tastiest part of the meal, so if you’re planning trip to Central Asia abandon all hope of keeping cholesterol levels in check.
Prov and Shashlyk are favourite Uzbek mutton dishes:
Prov, also known as pilaff, is a mixture of rice, onion, vegetables and mutton, all cooked up together in large pot. It’s a dish traditionally prepared by men, and is often served to guests or on special occasions.
Shashlyk is a kebab of skewered lumps of meat served with onion and bread.
Some great recipes from Uzbekistan
Tourist information on places to visit in Uzbekistan
Guide by Jess Halliday