We came in the back door to Uzbekistan and it wasn’t until Khiva that we made it onto the “tourist” track. Old and mysterious, Khiva was a lovely introduction to Uzbekistan’s silk road sites. Wandering out of the old city walls, we were greeted by children and families with a familiar “Saalam aleychum”. Wandering into a mosque, we removed our shoes before poking around. Deep in the labyrinth of rooms, in an adjoining courtyard, three men stood around a wood fire stirring an enormous cauldron of rice. Chatting through charades and what little Russian we know, we watched them work and were soon invited to return an hour later for food.
When we returned we didn’t really know what to expect. The mosque area was busy with other men filling bowls and retiring to small rooms to eat and at first we didn’t know what to do. The chef charged us for climbing up their minaret, after inviting us to do so, and we were concerned as to what the price of lunch might be. Awkward as this situation can be, the men motioned to the sky indicating the meal, and the chance to provide for a few weary travelers, was a gift from above.
Sitting on cushions and carpets we ate off a low table that was covered in nuts, fruits and Plov. Plov can best be described like rice pilaf, that’s why the name is so similar, but with dried and fresh fruit slow cooked in. Simmered with aromatic oils and fruits, the dish was as delicious as it smelled. It’s often served with meat on top, but its easily adaptable for vegetarians. A big plate fed three of us and we spent a long time afterwards relaxing, digesting and nibbling on the fruit. Deep in the shade of the mosque the meal felt like a throwback to a thousand years ago. Our hosts were incredibly generous and we thanked them profusely for the experience and the food. They were delighted that we enjoyed the meal and after a few pictures we went on our way back to the old town. Like so many things, it was an experience hard to forget.
IF YOU GO: Khiva is the ‘third’ of Uzbekistan’s silk road cities and travelers sometimes give it a miss. Although it is the smallest in magnitude it has the most authentic feel as people still live and work inside the walls of the old city. Walking through the old city at night, with the minarets lit and the sky above a perfect ‘Milky Way’ dark, is probably the best way to enjoy the city. We stayed at the Otabek B&B but rumor has it Meros, for slightly more money, represents better value…both are within the old city’s walls. Souvenirs seemed cheaper in Khiva than in Bukhara as well. To get to Khiva (from either Buchara or Nukus) you will need to travel through Urgench, a $1 bus ride from Khiva.