Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A "Plov' is as good as a feast

PLOV, the national dish of Uzbekistan, is relished not only by the citizens of Uzbekistan but by all the peoples living in Central Asia. Fragrant, hot, ready to melt in the mouth, the rice is cooked with carrots, onions, and garlic, and served in white mountains on a huge platter with morsels of mutton or beef. Among the Uzbeks, Kara-Kalpaks, Kazakhs and Tajiks and other peoples of Central Asia, it is the favourite dish for special occasions and holidays.

Rice cultivation is believed to have come into Central Asia originally from the Indus plain. Whilst there is not enough archaeological evidence to give a precise date as to when this development happened, it is believed that the emergence of irrigated rice cultivation coincided with the emergence of technology of how to build large scale and complex irrigation networks, a phenomenon connected with the appearance in the cultivated oases of the first urban trading centres sometime during the 6th millennium B.C.

As with other regions of Antiquity with arid climates the frontiers of the earliest State structures in Central Asia largely corresponded to the limits of irrigated land. By the end of the second and the beginning of the last millennium B.C, these irrigated lands accounted for the territorial outline of many states, including Bactria which developed on the upper course of the Amu Darya and its tributaries, Dagestan on the Terek, Margiana on the Murghab, Parthia in the foothills of the Kopet Dag mountains, Sogdiana in the valley of the Zeravshan, and Khorezm in the ancient delta of the Amu-Darya. The Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-420 BC) mentions an irrigation installation existing on the river Ak (Akes) which watered the lands on the borders of Khorezm, Hyrcania and Parthia.

Under the Persian Achaeminid dynasty (sixth-fourth centuries BC) which dominated a large part of Central Asia, the development of agriculture was stimulated by the construction of canals, where wheat, barley, millet and many other crops were grown, including both grapes and rice.

When Alexander the Great was treading the path of conquest to India around 327 BC, rice was reportedly already widely grown in Bactria.

In addition various Chinese sources report that rice-growing was widespread in Central Asia by the second century B.C. The traveller and diplomat Zhang Qian tells how in the Ferghana and Parthia that "the way of life is sedentary, agriculture is practiced, rice and wheat are sown; wine is taken from the vine'.

Cooking up Plov (Source: The Australian Newspaper)

Traditionally rice was only grown on land belonging to the wealthy and powerful. This started to change in the second half of the nineteenth century, when most of the region became part of Tsarist Russia and peasants also began to grow rice for the market, on rented land.
Rice and the dishes prepared with it were primarily the food of the richer population up until this time. However at important ceremonial occasions - weddings, funerals, and the new year festival (navruz) dishes prepared from rice have long been a fixture. Today in Uzbekistan Plov is still cooked at the home of the bride and bridgroom to be served at weddings and other important family occasions and is an important ingredient in the ritual food served at funerals.

Plov today is still a popular street food. Prepared in giant saucepans often cooked in the street, it is widely available in cafes, canteens and restaurants.

There are over forty main recipes for plov (ED: hundreds of variants) using meat, carrots, onions and other vegetables, raisins, etc. The art is proudly transmitted from generation to generation. Cooking plov requires plenty of strength and staminal. A saucepan may contain anything from 50 to 300 kilograms of food.

For each kilogram of rice the cook must add an equal quantity of meat, carrots and onions, not forgetting condiments which give plov its distinctive taste. Woe betide the cook who does not know how to boil rice so that the grains don't stick together! .... until the dish is ready for the whole family or at festivals where many hundreds of trenchermen may gather for the feast.

Source: A 'plov' is as good as a feast - national dish of Uzbekistan Boris V. Andrianov UNESCO 1984 and other Plov sites.

Note: A handful of 15,000-year-old burnt rice grains was discovered by archaeologists in 2003.