Plov – a quintessential Central Asian dish that goes by palav or osh among Tajiks and pilaf in other parts of the world – is a recurring theme in Tajikistan. It’s basically a giant bowl of rice, carrots, and other ingredients depending on region (my favorite being the intensely flavorful miniature grapes they use in Istaravshan), all stir-fried up in cottonseed oil, topped with chunks of lamb, and eaten with huge wheels of lepeshka, the national bread.
Plov is the default vehicle of hospitality in Tajikistan. When a Tajik person invites you over their house, they will prepare a bowl of plov for you. Every time I visit one of my MFI’s branch offices, the staff there will take us out to a lunch of plov at a traditional Tajik choikhona (teahouse). My neighbors across the hall have started to randomly bring me bowls of plov at like 9:30 at night for no reason I can discern. As a result, it is basically pouring out my ears by this point in my fellowship.
Last weekend, Khurshed invited me over his house for an afternoon of plov and camaraderie. I decided to take you along. (I hope you weren’t busy that day.)
But first, we had to go shopping for supplies. This is the tiled sign at the grand portal of Panjshanbe Market, the main bazaar in Khujand. “Panjshanbe,” by the way, means “Thursday” in Tajiki, which was when the market used to take place before it evolved into an every-waking-hour extravaganza. (For similar reasons, the name of Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe literally means “Monday.”)
A split-second photo from behind the main bazaar building, showing the chaos, the color, and the crush of people on a Sunday morning. It’s such an invigorating place to be.
This, though you wouldn’t know it, is the doorway to Khurshed’s house. The backstreets in Tajikistan always feel strangely deserted; each house functions as its own walled-off compound, and as a result, the dirt streets are little more than corridors between high walls.
But this is what’s inside! A traditional Tajik house is often dominated by an interior courtyard surrounded by a high wall. The actual rooms of the house are strung out in a line along one or two walls, and they’re often disconnected from each other so that you have to go outside to get from room to room. A cooking stove and a pit toilet both sit under an overhang across the courtyard (flush toilets are still a luxury here). The courtyard itself functions as a little plot of farmland in which the family grows various plants and crops, partly for subsistence and partly for barter or sale. Khurshed has gone a step farther and mounted a lattice above his whole patio, turning it into a hanging vineyard. By the way, keep in mind that you’re looking at an urban household.
Khurshed immediately sat me down in his dining room, with a low table surrounded by brightly colored cushions.
Within like 90 seconds, no less than nine plates full of various snacks, salads, and sweets had materialized on the table in front of me. Where did all of this come from so quickly??
This is Khurshed’s younger son, Jahongir.
And his older son, Jamshed, who is super-excited to show me his big American flag. This flag proceeded to follow me everywhere for the rest of the day, as Khurshed and his sons decided it needed to be in every single picture they saw me take. It was so heartwarming and earnest that I felt bad about my inability to stop cracking up over it.
And the plov has arrived! The bad picture doesn’t do it justice, nor does it do justice to the sheer amount of food that had found its way onto the table by this point. Taking food pictures is clearly not my special talent. (Please note the American flag.)
This is the outdoor stove Khurshed’s wife uses to bake lepeshka. I don’t know if you can see, but the family keeps chickens in the little alcove under the stove. If I were a chicken, I would be seriously alarmed to be living inside a stove.
AMERICAN SUPERHERO JAHONGIR feeding the chickens.
How wonderful would it be to just be able to take out a ladder and shake down some grapes whenever you feel hungry? I am a little jealous.
The kids’ room is papered with posters to help them learn English vocabulary. (Please note the American flag.) Khurshed is trying to teach them the language early, with hilarious results; every time he walked out of the room, the two kids would run up to me and start shouting out random phrases like “THIS IS A HOUSE” and “I HAVE ONE BROTHER” and “HI WHAT IS YOUR NAME.”
And then seven-year-old Jamshed actually managed to figure out how to work my SLR to take a picture of us. Good job! I, on the other hand, closed my eyes like a dork. (Please note the American flag.)