When in Rome, do as the Romans do…
It’s such a cliche, isn’t it? But as a traveller, this has got to be THE golden rule. If you stand your ground with doing exactly as you would when you were in your hometown, what is the point of leaving? Right?
So during my trip in Dushanbe, I was a woman on a mission to try what real Tajik food is all about. Please don’t get me wrong, I was not stubborn looking for Jollibee, or lechong kawali here. Although, I will say that I miss these terribly. I went with the flow. And in the process, I experienced food so unique that I could not compare them to anything I have tasted before. A real first for me!
I was given a list of dishes to try. I graciously asked at the hotel reception what kind of food I should watch out for. I was advised that I have to go to various restaurants just to try each. I get that concept. I’m thinking Little Tokyo, Makati Cinema Square. You go to one place for tempura, another for sushi. And then one for okonomiyaki. So, for two dishes, I went to two restaurants.
First came my search for osh. For this one, I bumped into it by coincidence. I just stepped into a random eatery during the lunch hour. On the way to the counter, I surveyed quickly what people had on their tables. I saw a rice dish with a gleaming orange color. I spotted it in a gigantic pan at the back of their kitchen. As I pointed to it and ordered, I realized that the orange color came from the julienned carrots on top of the heaping dish of rice.
When I saw the dish, I unlocked the secret to this sight I saw in the market the other day.
Chop-chopping ladies and gentlemen, all day long, julienned carrots for osh… Sooo that’s why…
Atop the osh were bite sized beef cubes. Also mixed into the rice were some chickpeas too. I saw the diners pairing their osh with a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, and a stack of bread.
I said no to the bread, which I learned is usually served with the dish.
I was like… Nooooo. Carbs on carbs?!? Why are they thin and skinny???
Could it be that they drink tea with it? So, doing as the Tajiks do, I order tea.
My entire meal was worth 19TJS, a little over PHP 100. Mental note: The consumer price index here is crazy. Good food is just unbelievably cheap here.
The more interesting expedition was when I went on my way to eat qurutob. Quite frankly, I did not know what it was. Before I left my hotel room, I glanced on the internet just to see what it looked like. So when I looked at a menu, I knew what dish to point at.
So I entered this quaint restaurant underneath a big tree. It was lovely, hidden “behind the bushes”. I loved the feel of it. I entered, I was the only customer there.
They had an English menu, which was a relief.
But the waiter did not speak English.
Language barrier, here we go!!
Luckily, there was one old man there who knew a little English. He pointed at the menu and said qurutob. And somehow I understood what he was saying, that I should only get half an order. I also thought it was a good idea, I did not want to waste any food, in case I can’t finish it. Then my order came.
This was half an order. Huwaaat?
The Tajiks had an amazing appetite!
This dish was unlike anything I had ever tasted. It was mainly strips of bread, a rustic puff-pastry like bread called fatir. Days before, I bought this bread along the street. It was tough and dense. And I was perplexed how they ate it.
It was at the restaurant that I realized that they pair it with the qurutob.
As a dressing-slash-soup, they had on the side, a yogurt-like liquid, but way thinner in consistency. They topped the dish with beef, the freshest tomatoes and herbs you can imagine. It was a taste unlike any other. I will remember it for weeks to come, with this souvenir photo to remind me fondly of it.
My qurutob and Tajik hat.
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