Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Alexander Volkov: Of Sand and Silk, an Exhibition at Christie's, London

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Alexander Volkov's Women with Peacock, 1921
If you are near London between 4 and 21 September, this is a must-see exhibition of more than 50 early works of Alexander Volkov. It is the first exhibition of his works outside Russia and Central Asia.

Born in Ferghana in 1886, Volkov spent his life in Uzbekistan, apart from studies in Kiev and St. Petersburgh.

For artists, the 1920s in the Soviet Union was a heady period of experimentation, inventiveness and colour. Volkov was one of the founders of the Masters of the New Orient group in Tashkent  and his dynamic, exuberant works from this period fuse modernism with orientalism.

It is said he used to wear Renaissance velvet pantaloons while walking the streets of old Tashkent. He was regarded with suspicion by the Soviet authorities and later, during the final years of Stalin’s rule, he was accused of “formalism”, banished from artistic circles and isolated. He died in 1957.

Thanks to Igor Savitksy, over 70 paintings and 21 graphics by Alexander Volkov are held in the Nukus Museum. On Uzbek Journeys tours you spend an entire day there: it is one of the highlights of the trip. You also have the chance to view Volkov's work at the Tashkent Fine Arts Museum.

Christie's is at 8 King Street, St James's, London. The exhibition runs from 4 through 21 September. Open daily from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm; entry is free. The works are not for sale.

View the special Christie's exhibition video below [3.5 mins] in which Evelyn Heathcoat Amory, Specialist in Russian Pictures, discusses the exhibition highlights. Ensure you watch in full screen mode to fully enjoy the preview.

Related postCentral Asia in Art: From Soviet Orientalism to the New Republics
Pablo Picasso and Nadejda Kashina Exhibition in Tashkent
Igor Savitsky, Founder of the Karakalpakstan Museum, Nukus

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Feruza's Ikat Store, Bukhara

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Feruza Ahrarova and her son, Komol
Meet Feruza Ahrarova, whose enticing store at the entrance to the first cupola in Bukhara, stops you in your tracks with its riot of fabrics and designs.

She specialises in gorgeous Ferghana ikats. Although there are a few ikat stalls in Bukhara, I am always drawn back to Feruza's because of the range and quality of her fabrics, and because she is such a marvellous woman.

Born in the old walled city of Bukhara, her father was a university teacher and her mother a technologist at a cotton factory. Even in Soviet times the family ran two small souvenir shops in the first cupola area, right near Lyabi Haus. Feruza spent her after-school hours and weekends hanging around listening to tourists, improving her English and noting how different groups of people liked different items.

After graduating from university, a space came up for rent near her parents' shops and she decided to open her own tiny boutique, initially selling antique goods, especially textiles. Tourists liked the traditional patterns; however, the quality of the fabric was variable and long lengths unavailable. At the same time, Ferghana ikat producers started making new ikats using the old patterns. Feruza saw an opportunity: offer beautiful silk and cotton ikats in palettes and patterns that appealed to visitors.

uzbek ikats, uzbekistan textile art tours
Feruza's parents Mavlyuda and Urunboy; her daughter Leila
Feruza studied the traditional fabrics at the Bukhara Museum of Applied Arts and poured over books on traditional ikat patterns. In Margilan, the centre of Ferghana's ikat production, she met master weaver Rasulkhodja with whom she works closely to produce her special ikats in new and old designs, based on feedback from her clients about colours and patterns.

Originally visitors bought fabric for making cushion covers and table runners. Now that ikat is a global design trend she notes that some people are buying 20 or 30 metres for major interior statements. Her direct collaboration with Rasulkhodja means that her fabrics are keenly priced: silk velvet ikat is US$30 per metre, adras (silk/cotton mix) US$15 per metre and cotton ikat US$5. Most ikat is between 35cm - 50 cm wide. She can also arrange DHL shipments.

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Outside Feruza's shop
Unique to Bukhara, Feruza offers a made-to-order service usually with a 24-hour turnaround, e.g. cushion covers with zippers can be made for the fabric cost plus $2.50. Custom table cloths, place mats and tote bags are also possible. If you fancy an ikat dress or trousers, it is best to bring a sample to copy. Feruza is a genius at matching the patterns at the seams.

Her shop is always bustling with tourists and friends from the neighbourhood. Often a picnic table is installed opposite the shop and the women stall holders gather there for lunch and gossip. You will be warmly invited to join. Feruza's father taught her that "if you have soft heart, people will treat you with a soft heart". And so it is that people enjoy spending time with this big-hearted woman.

Silk velvet ikat in butterfly pattern
Her family has recently embarked on a major project: the renovation of an old Jewish merchant's house behind the nearby art museum. It belonged to a long-time friend of Feruza's, Bella, the local hairdresser, who emigrated. Feruza plans to lovingly restore it, live there with her family and offer home-cooked traditional meals for friends and visitors.

Do visit Feruza's store when you are in Bukhara. It is impossible to miss! It opens daily around 10:00 a.m. and closes late, usually around 8:30 p.m.

You can also reach Feruza via email at: feruzaikat[at]mail[dot]ru

Simple, custom-made ikat dress

Related posts:
The Story of Uzbek Silk Production: Step by Step
Uzbek Ikat as Interior Design Element
Oscar de la Renta's Love Affair with Uzbek Ikat
Basso & Brooke Meet Ikat on the New Silk Road Project

Monday, August 13, 2012

Uzbekistan for Vegetarians

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Suzanna Fatyan
Suzanna Fatyan, one of Uzbekistan's finest tour guides, takes up the challenge of exploring vegetarian options in Uzbekistan - a cuisine dominated by meat. She also revisits Samarkand and Tashkent restaurants and cafés, this time checking out the vegetarian dishes.

Uzbekistan is a country travellers visit for its four seasons. But late spring, early summer and autumn are the best for coming to this beautiful land. Not only for wonderful sunny days and pleasant evenings, but also for seasonal organic fruit and vegetables.

Uzbek salads and vegetable dishes

Uzbek cuisine mostly consists of meat courses. However, vegetarian visitors will never feel deprived travelling around Uzbekistan. Every Uzbek choykhona (tea house), café, and restaurant will amaze you with a choice of fresh salads like achichuk (shakarop, or Uzbek salad), turf chakka (sliced summer radish served with traditional yoghurt), chalop (cold soup, mixture of chakka/suzma yogurt and greens, or cucumbers), carrot and walnut salad, very delicious beetroot salad (also frequently served with walnuts), excellent fried or grilled aubergines, tomatoes, potatoes, fried cauliflowers, squashes and many more. Bazaars and some restaurants also offer a good choice of Korean salads.

uzbek cuisine, uzbekistan textile tours
Chalop soup
In Samarkand, travellers may find a true speciality:  anzur, onion picked in the mountains and marinated according to a special, complicated recipe. This wonderful starter can be found in almost any osh khona (plov place), or at Siyob market (Samarkand’s bazaar).  Serving marinated or pickled vegetables is common for Uzbekistan but anzur is a *must try* for everyone visiting Samarkand!


Cereals are also widely used in Uzbek cuisine. For many travellers it is the first time they meet some of these cereals. For example, mosh.  When people face mosh at a bazaar they frequently associate it with black lentil, which it is not. Mosh is known in many countries as mung bean, green gram and golden gram. The cereal is common in Chinese cuisine, where it is served as a dessert. In Uzbekistan, it used for cooking substantial meals like mosh kichiri (porridge) and mosh hurda (soup), both of which contain meat. However, many places serve meat-free versions of both dishes.

uzbekistan cuisine, uzbek art textile tours
Mosh - mung beans
Mosh is also part of Korean cuisine: at most bazaars you may discover germinated mung beans in the Korean salads area. Another exotic cereal one can find is guja (white corn). Used for cooking wonderful soups, it may contain meat but a meat-free version is also available in many places.

Russian buckwheat porridge is popular in our country as well. It is served in most cafés and restaurants. I recommend you combine buckwheat with traditional yoghurt (chakka/suzma), kaymok or sour cream (smetana). Rice is used not only for cooking palov osh but also osh ba jurg'ot and shir birinch (rice milk porridge). By the way, rice pumpkin porridge is also a *must try* starter. Very delicious.

uzbekistan cuisine, uzbekistan history tours
Melons and pumpkins; image: Arthur Chapman
If you visit Uzbekistan in autumn, you must try local pumpkin. Pumpkin mountains attract your gaze immediately you enter the market. Pumpkin may be baked or used in home pastries, but the most delicious to my mind is manty (steamed dumplings) filled with pumpkin. In addition I would recommend manty filled with mashed potatoes and fried onion, mixed generously with black pepper.


Desserts deserve special attention! They are found at every market of Uzbekistan: wonderful peaches, apricots, apples, plums, figs, persimmons, and grapes. Plus fabulous melons and watermelons that must be tried in every city because of the different variations. Note: never combine fresh fruits and water! It may cause discomfort in your stomach. Green tea is the best combination with fruit on hot, sunny days.

Different kinds of nuts and raisins will ensure you won’t starve during long and adventurous trips. Local bazaars are rich with excellent pistachios, almonds, walnuts, peanuts. Often they are covered with sugar glaze or sesame seeds. Yummy! Prunes, raisins, dried apricots, dried melons, Central Asian dates and figs also make a delicious conclusion to any meal or may even be a starter.

Persimmon; image Arthur Chapman
If you take famous Uzbek dried fruits and nuts home, you can make a very healthy speciality from them. All you need are ground prunes, dried apricots, walnuts and lemon rind. Just mix them together with honey and have a teaspoon every morning. It will enrich you with energy for the whole day and remind you of the warm Uzbek sun.

Samarkand restaurant choices

You are already familiar with some restaurants I described in my previous articles (see links below). I would like to add a few more to the list. I start with my native city – Samarkand. A café I discovered recently is Sharqona. It is located in a wonderful 19th century part of town at 15  A.Navoi Street, walking distance from Pokrovskaya Church. (Tel: +998 90 656 01 10, +998 66 938 72 08). Sharqona offers traditional Uzbek guja. You can enjoy it sitting outside on warm Uzbek evenings.

Another restaurant offering good choices for vegetarians is Exclusive at 92 A. Timur Street, (tel. +998 66 233 60 90). Exclusive serves excellent horovatz (grilled aubergines, tomatoes, fresh onions and vinegar), lavash with brynza and greens, potatoes with garlic (very delicious), different variations of dishes with mushrooms and homemade red wine.

uzbek art textile tours, uzbekistan cuisine
Look for this sign to find Кафе, Samarkand
Zlata Praha opened a new place – Bar BQ Zlata Praha, right in front of the Korzinka supermarket, at 59 Mirzo Ulugbek St. I know with a name like Bar BQ it sounds like a meat place, and it is. But Bar BQ Zlata Praha offers a good choice of meat-free soups (onion soup, tomato soup, lentil soup), sea food and variations of cheese. Fried cheese is one of my favourites. For dessert, the restaurant offers chocolate fondant, fried pineapples, excellent apple pie and good coffee!

Walking around Samarkand city centre, in particular the A. Timur street area close to A. Navoi (formerly Lenin St ) please do not miss Кафе located in a 'communal court' between Smak shop and Copy Club office. This cosy café run, by a Korean family, offers fabulous salads, pickles and chalop (cold soup) along with refreshing homemade kompot. And they have a 'live menu': it means you chose everything from a colourful and delicious tray brought right to your table. You see,  food passion has no language barrier! I suggest you visit the spot a bit before rush hour to ensure you get a table, as It does not accept reservations. Кафе is open only until 3:00 p.m. and closed on Sundays. 
uzbekistan vegetarian platter, uzbekistan texiles craft tours
Typical 'live menu' platter, at Кафе, Samarkand
For a relaxed atmosphere, delicious rice and grilled vegetables, plus excellent mojitos, I recommend Rubai at A. Navoi St (formerly Lenin St). Entering Rubai from A.Navoi street you might have an impression of a fast food joint, but you should skip the fast food part, enter a 'secret' door and go upstairs. Even on a hot and sunny day you feel like you are in an Oriental marquee, protected from the heat in this little, charming place. Rubai is a mixture of local and Moroccan styles with a touch of Europe at the same time: a true melting pot!

Tashkent restaurant choices 

I would like to add two more to my list of favourite places in Tashkent. Jumanji is a long-established Tashkent restaurant. It is located at the intersection of Yunus Khos Khodjib Street and K. Jalilov, right near the Bek Hotel. Its website includes an English menu, with a separate vegetarian section.  Highly recommended are the aubergines with walnuts inside: this traditional Armenian snack is usually made at home and is quite a treat to have in a restaurant. Jumanji is good for dinners, when you are done with sightseeing and can afford to forget about time. The place is rather spacious: try to get seats near the fountain.

uzbekistan vegetarian cuisine, uzbekistan art textile tours
The cool Кафе, Tashkent
One of the highlights in Tashkent is a café known as Кафе. We have two Кафе in today's list! This café was opened recently and shot to fame by using Facebook to promote itself.

Nowadays it’s the most popular café in the city, offering not only excellent desserts and coffee but also a good choice of quiche with mushrooms, spinach or cheese.

Кафе is rather hidden, located in the Avtodorojnyi Institute neighbourhood, near the dance school of Zlotnikov at 23 Shakhrisab St. For reservations and directions phone Кафе on +998 94 661 36 37. And please do not miss the green tea coffee! It’s so helpful in the 45-degree Celsius days of peak summer.

Ordering vegetarian options in restaurants

Here are some phrases for you to learn in Russian:

Ya vegetarianka :               I am vegetarian (for a woman)
Ya vegetarianets:               I am vegetarian (for a man)
Ya ne em myaso:                I do not eat meat
Ya em tol'ko ovoshi:           I eat only vegetables. (It's important to add this as some Uzbeks think that chicken is not meat!)

Suzanna's other foodie posts: 
Tashkent Restaurants and Cafés
Bukhara Restaurants and Cafés
Samarkand Restaurant and Cafés
Celebrating Nowruz - Spring New Year in Uzbekistan
The Glory of Uzbek Bread

Contact Suzanna via email:
contact suzanna fatyan uzbek guide samarkand

Monday, August 6, 2012

Uzbek Sketchbook

uzbekistan textile art craft tours, uzbekistan small group tours
The Door of the Yurt; courtesy Tony Richardson
Sometimes the Uzbek desert is too vast.

Sometimes the blue of the sky is too blue to believe and the patterns of the tiles too intricate, too astonishing to follow.

One way to take it in, is to focus on the detail, the tiny glimpses of places and people that make travelling in Uzbekistan so special.

Tony Richardson, who travelled with Uzbek Journeys this year, would wander off with his sketchbook, observe the details and produce charming black and white impressions of those moments.

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Samarkand; courtesy Tony Richardson
He woke early and roamed the town streets in the stillness just as life was starting to stir. In the desert he rose with the sun to capture the yurt camp and desert fortress perched on the hill nearby.

And we would find him on the roof of the guesthouse in Khiva, quietly observing the neighbouring houses, the staggering views, and the magic of an ancient, walled city.

Tony's album is a delightful, personal record of his discoveries during the tour. It seems more precious than the digital images that are so easy to snap.

Maybe there is space for a sketchbook and pencils in your suitcase too?

uzbekistan textile art craft tours, uzbekistan small group tours
Left: Roof of Khiva; Right: Jahongir B & B, Samarkand, entrance. Courtesy Tony Richardson

Related post: Christine Shoji's Samarkand and Khiva Sketches