Making Central Asian cuisine 

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All of the above can be enjoyed right in the center of the city, in authentic Uzbek restaurants, where visitors can recline on cushions at low tables covered with carpets. Sherali Musayev, who came to Moscow from Tashkent six years ago, is a chef at one of these restaurants, Uryuk. 

Story: Dmity Romendik
Photos and video: Vladimir Stakheev 

There are few cities in the world that have such ethnic and culinary diversity as Moscow. You can try dishes from practically all over the world in the Russian capital. One of the ethnic cuisines that has earned a well-deserved popularity among Muscovites and visitors to the city alike is Uzbek cuisine, with its filling Chaikhana plov, samsa, shurpa, lagman soup, kebabs, and inimitable flat breads. 

Uzbek pilaf, or plov, was first brought to Moscow back in the 15th century by envoys from the Chagatai Khanate, which occupied the territory of modern Uzbekistan. Four centuries later, Russia annexed most of the Khanate of Bukhara (which between the 16th and the 18th centuries occupied the territory of modern Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan). Soon many Uzbek names appeared on the list of Moscow's richest merchants. These new wealthy entrepreneurs helped to build the city's first mosques. In 1921, a Bukhara House of Learning opened in Spiridonovka Street in central Moscow. Yet, despite the long history of Russian-Uzbek relations, a full-fledged Uzbek community emerged in Moscow only after the break-up of the Soviet Union.    
Historical background 
Sherali, an ethnic Uzbek, was born in Tajikistan, graduated from a culinary college in Kyrgyzstan, did his military service in Kazakhstan and then moved to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. This means Sherali has spent time in practically all of the former Soviet Central Asian republics (except for Turkmenistan).    
"When I came to Moscow in 2008, despite the fact that I was an experienced chef, at first I worked as a butcher. It was only several years later that I began to work as a cook and then became a chef," Sherali recalls.
"Why do people emigrate? It’s a difficult question, especially when you are over 40. I went to a Russian school, Russian is my native language, yet most of my friends are Europeans. What’s more, most of them have moved to Moscow too," he explains.    
According to official statistics, there are over 35,000 Uzbeks currently living in Moscow. Contrary to popular belief, far from all of them are working on construction sites. The local Uzbek community also has chefs, restaurant owners, and lawyers among its members. Then, of course, there are also people like the cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov or the billionaire Alisher Usmanov, Russia's richest man in 2012. Uzbeks bring their own language to Moscow but, as a rule, they are also fluent Russian speakers. Most of them are Muslims.    
Sherali says he has many friends in Moscow, including his childhood friends and men he served in the army with. He also knows many fellow worshippers at the mosque. "There are many mosques in Moscow and we are glad that a Russian city respects Muslims' rights," he says.     
"My Uzbek roots really help me in my life and work in Moscow,” Sherali explains. “We have this Oriental wisdom: Wish people well and do not expect evil from them, then you get the good in return."    
Sherali's culinary career had a bit of a dramatic start. At the age of six, he decided to make some candy for himself. As he was melting sugar in a pan, he accidentally started a fire. "It was a real fire, the firemen came. It was a miracle that I survived. After that I made up my mind that I would become a chef."    

The kitchen that Sherali runs is an open space that is not separated from the rest of the restaurant by any walls. Watching the cooking staff at work is part of the show. As one of them puts a pan on the cooker and the fire flares almost to the ceiling, another is working his magic over a wok full of plov, or Uzbek pilaf. Yet another one is sticking a flat piece of dough to the inside wall of a tandoor oven with a special pair of pincers with a two-meter-long handle. In a matter of minutes, the flat breads are ready and need to be removed from the tandoor with the help of the same pincers. 

The tandoor that Sherali cooks his breads in, like himself, has come from Uzbekistan. The restaurant gets up to 70 percent of its supplies from Uzbekistan. Sherali explains: "Take carrots, for example. The varieties that grow in Russia are red and sweet, while for plov carrots must be yellow and less sweet, so we order them from Uzbekistan." The same goes for the two types of rice used for wedding plov and chaikhana plov, respectively (the former is served at wedding feasts and special occasions, while the latter is everyday ‘tearoom’ plov). Plov in general is a very complex thing. "Take three chefs using the same recipe and they will end up with three plovs that will each taste different."    

Moscow appreciates authenticity (although the Uryuk restaurant itself somewhat adapts authentic Uzbek recipes to make sure they meet the restaurant’s high standards) and does not tolerate people who end up in this business by accident and are not committed to it. Any Uzbek restaurant that values its reputation will have only an ethnic Uzbek as its head chef. People who can make a decent plov will always be able to earn a good living here. 


Sherali wanted to move to Moscow in the 1990s but was unable to do that for family reasons: He had two small daughters and a 16-year-old son at the time. The daughters are now married. "We decided that first I'd move over here, settle down, build a house outside Moscow and then my family would join me. So the plan is that they will come in a year's time," he says.

In the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the mechanism of "bringing the family over to Moscow" has been practiced by members of various ethnic communities to perfection. Far from all of them leave it until they have a house outside Moscow: The majority hope for good luck and move with their whole family in town. They rent a tiny apartment in a suburb, and then everything depends on that good luck, as the journey from a construction worker to a chef is not such a long one in the end.    
Produced by Russia Beyond
the Headlines in 2014 
Story: Dmity Romendik
Photos and video: Vladimir Stakheev