Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and The Caucasus

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Cover of this ravishing new recipe and travel book
Uzbek Journeys clients, and readers who are dreaming about visiting the Silk Road, will relish this new publication Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and The Caucasus.

Caroline Eden, a regular contributor to the food and travel pages of London's Financial Times, The Guardian and Independent newspapers, teamed up with Eleanor Ford, a recipe developer and editor for the Good Food Channel and BBC Good Food, to produce this lavish book.

For many centuries various ethnic groups passed through the fabled city of Samarkand, sharing and influencing each other's cuisine and leaving their culinary stamp.

Over 100 recipes, adapted for the home cook, are showcased, interspersed with personal travel essays introducing the region and its ethnic groups: Uzbek, Tajik, Russian, Korean, Turkish, Caucasian and Jewish.

Of course Uzbek plov is featured and as Eleanor Ford said in an interview with the Evening Standard: "This is absolutely the defining dish of the region, and it is such an exciting experience going at lunchtime to one of the plov kitchens - bustling canteens where hundreds of people are served from this one vast kazan pan.

One chef would be doing it, layering up meat and rice and vegetables with just a little bit of spice. That way everything is scented by the slow cooking meat which is at the bottom of the pan. Officially this is a lunchtime dish, or a dish served at weddings or celebrations".

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Cucumber and rose soup
Gloriously photographed, the book displays the vibrancy and culinary originality of this remarkable region.

It is divided into these sections:
  • Shared table
  • Soups
  • Roast meats and kebabs
  • Warming dishes
  • Plovs and pilavs
  • Accompaniments
  • Breads and doughs
  • Drinks and deserts

Definitely a treat for yourself or on the Christmas list for a friend.

Related posts:
The Glory of Uzbek Bread
Chekichs: Uzbek Bread Stamps
Samarkand Restaurants and Cafés: An Insider's View
Nowruz Spring Festival 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Kyrgyzstan: World Nomad Games are Underway

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Mounted archery competition
The Second World Nomad Games opened on the shores of Issyk Kul lake on Saturday 3 September in spectacular fashion.

In an era of globalisation, the Games are an initiative of Kyrgyz President, Almazbek Atambaev, that aim to:
  • show the world the greatness of nomadic civilization
  • show the world the values of peace and culture and the life of each ethnic nomadic group
  • provide the opportunity to see nomadic sports in their original form
  • provide the opportunity to see the richness of the world's nomadic people.
 "The purpose of the organization of the Games is to give a second breath to sports which are little known to the rest of the world, but are very popular in countries where modern nomads live, or have lived," said Nurdin Sultanbaev, Head of the Secretariat of the Second World Nomad Games 2016.

Forty countries  are participating this year, double the number from the inaugural games in 2014. As well as other Central Asian countries, participants come from Argentina, Australia, America, the Middle East and Africa.

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Er enish - wrestling on horseback
Over twenty games will be in competition including wrestling, archery, (mounted and stationery) falconry, hunting with taigans, board games and shagai - similar to knuckle bones, though ankle bones are used.

Unsurprisingly, in Kyrgyzstan where there are more horses than cars, horse games figure prominently in the program: buzkashi, wrestling on horseback, javelin throwing on horseback and horse races. A new racetrack has been built at Cholpon Ata specifically for the Games.

A small town has been built high in the mountains, in Kyrchyn Gorge, which recreates nomads’ yurts with traditional interiors and craftsmen’s workshops with handicrafts. A Folk Festival featuring traditional music and costumes is also part of the festival.

You can view the opening cermony and follow the World Nomad Games online.

Related posts:
Kyrgyz-style Polo: Ulak Tartysh or Buzkashi 
Manaschi - Bards of Kyrgyzstan
Elechek - Kyrgyz Traditional Headdress
Yurts of Central Asia 
5 Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan

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Opening ceremony at the 2016 World Nomad Games, Kyrgyzstan

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bishkek from Mediaeval Times to the Soviet Period: A Brief History

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Lilya Kas'yanova with mushroom bouquet
Frequent contributor to this website, Lilya Kas'yanova, an expert guide to Kyrgyzstan, has noted that many travellers are unaware of the city's history prior to the Soviet period. In this essay she provides an overview.

The location of medieval Bishkek was quite advantageous as the Valley of Chui River was  criss-crossed by the caravan trails of the Great Silk Road.

The eastern branch of the trunk road threaded through the Golden (Chui) Valley, and interlaced there with another, which pierced through the territory of the Central Tien-Shan mountains.

In the 7th – 13th centuries A.D., the Turkic-Sogdian Djul’ settlement was located in the space of present-day Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan. Historians date Djul's foundation from the 6th century A.D.

In ancient Turkic dialect "Djul" means "steppe". One theory is that the town had also been known under its Sogdian name "Peshgah", meaning “town that lies in the foothills of the mountains”. In the Middle Ages, it was common practice to give two names to localities: one – Sogdian, another – Turkic.

Djul’ was not the only populated center of the Golden Valley: some historical sources indicate 18 towns and 50 small settlements. A well-defined distance of one-two days’ caravan march separated the towns of the Valley.

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Detail of Sogdian textile - the Sogdians were the great
merchants of the Silk Road  

The Iranian-speaking merchants and farmers who had moved from Sogdiana founded those settlements. Samarkand, in present-day Uzbekistan, was the heart of Sogdiana.

Gradually, those Turkic nomads, who were attracted by a sedentary lifestyle, took up residence in the towns. The settlements of the medieval era were multi-faith centres: they were settled by Zoroastrians, Christians, Buddhists, Nestorians, Muslims and pagans who lived together in peace.

In the 7th century A.D., Djul’ had the following layout:

  • citadel (central, fortified stronghold) - positioned in the dominant north-western section of the shahrestan;
  • shahrestan (residential quarters of ruler and nobles) - surrounded with a rampart;
  • and  rabad (suburb represented by workshops, shopping stalls, etc.) the centre of economic life, and which in turn was encircled by orchards and fields. 
Kilometers-long embankments screened cultivated areas: Djul’ was a sprawling city by medieval standards.

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Nestorian tombstone dated 1368, from Chui Valley,
now in the Hermitage museum
It is generally accepted that the booming towns of the Chui Valley declined by the 14th – 15th centuries. However, different versions describing the eclipse of urban life are put forward: the devastating marches and punitive expeditions of Amir Timur (Tamerlane), natural disasters such as earthquakes, internal feuds, plagues and so on.

In 1825, the Khan of Kokand (now in present-day Uzbekistan), after conquering lands populated by the obstinate Kyrgyz nomads, built a fortress known as Pishkek at the site of today’s Bishkek city, to maintain firm control.

However, the Russian military detachment led by siege-craft experts, completed a successful attack on the enemy’s citadel in November 1862. The Kokand fortress fell; it was demolished to the foundation by the Russian troops. Later, on the site of the former fortress, a Cossack outpost was positioned.

Pishpek settlement was founded in 1868.  Finally, the district center was moved from Tokmok to Pishpek, and it was granted the status of town on April 29, 1878.  The town became the administrative center of the Soviet Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Region in October, 1924.

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Parade at Central Square, Bishkek 1939
In 1926, Pishpek was renamed Frunze in honour of Michael Frunze, a major Red Army commander in the Russian Civil War, who is best known for defeating Baron Wrangel in Crimea. He was also Joseph Stalin’s arch rival – Frunze was born here in 1885. (As an aside, when flying to Bishkek you will note that the luggage tag’s three-letter airport code is FRU – a relic from the Soviet past).

The residents of the town laid out a great many parks and gardens of delicious coolness, managing to create a delightful oasis in the mid-desert steppe.  Frunze was regarded as the greenest capital of the Soviet republics.

During World War II, some of the Soviet manufacturing facilities were moved to Frunze, thus keeping them beyond the reach of the enemy. A number of heavy industry enterprises were launched at that time turning Frunze into a thriving industrial heartland. Many cultural centres, such as museums and theatres, were built in the capital.

Frunze was renamed Bishkek when the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic became independent Kyrgyzstan in 1991.

Additional images of Soviet Bishkek are below.

Contact Lilya on: lolya.87(at) mail (dot) ru

Read all Lilya's articles

Related posts:
Burana, Kyrgyzstan: Medieval Settlement & Central Asia's Oldest Minaret 
Kyrgyzstan: Uzgen's Eternal Treasures
6 Quirky Things About Kyrgyzstan

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Old airport terminal of Frunze town

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School number 3 in Frunze, named after Joseph Stalin
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Southern Gate architectural complex, Frunze, 1970s