If there is one thing that I don’t think will happen to me while in Tajikistan – it’s going hungry. The food is delicious, extremely filling and pretty cheap.
Every day, at around 12pm, everybody comes out for lunch. It’s not very common for people to bring food to work, so pretty much everybody heads out to a nearby “choihona” or “stolovaya.” The look and feel of each establishment can vary tremendously – ranging from looking like actual cafes to simply having a few tables under a tarp and a big grill working outside.
The food options are relatively similar from place to place. It ranges from plov (rice with meat) to mantu (dumplings with meat) to lagman (soup with meat) or simply… meat, in a form of shisk kebab or the like.
Of course, no meal is ever complete without a big lepeshka (round pita-like bread) and a big pot of tea with lemon and heaps of sugar. After living here for a month, I’ve gotten used to consuming the entire pot of tea (5-6 cups worth) on my own, so I know I’ll have a hard time adjusting back in the States, where the cafes barely fill one cup to the top.
When the meal begins, one of the people typically breaks the lepeshka into pieces and often offers the first piece to the guest, along with the first cup of tea. If there are shared dishes, such as a popular “yogurt/kefir” dish in which people dip the break, everybody eats from the same bowl. And yes, douple dipping is allowed! Considering the fact that there aren’t always places to wash your hands beforehand, and even if there is one, there is usually a shared towel used by all, so it takes a bit of time getting used to. Let’s just say that me and my hand sanitizer have become inseparable :)
I’m usually pretty cautious about where the food comes from. Even the loan officers that I often eat with look for the cleaner places. But it can be tricky because even in reasonable-looking places, they don’t have the same sanitary codes as we do – by far. At the bazaar, for example, you’ll often find “plov” cooking in giant vats outside. Anybody can come by, grab a spoonful for a taste… note that I said “a spoon”, as it’s the same one used by everybody over and over.
As a whole, food is usually very delicious and cheap. In the city, a good lunch will cost you about 12 somoni ($3), while on the bazaar or in a small town, you can get by for 8-10 somoni ($2-2.50).
The only negative is that considering the enormous amount of meat, bread and sugar that is involved in every meal, it does sometimes feel unhealthy. Interestingly enough, many Tajiks that I’ve spoken to, don’t feel that it contributes to any weight or health problems or worry about those things. Personally, from what I’ve seen, it certainly can and does – but I don’t see the cuisine changing anytime soon.