At the heart of Uzbek culture is its wonderful hospitality, renowned for centuries. From the days when Uzbekistan stood at the crossroads of the Great Silk Road its grand cities hosted thousands of road-weary tradesmen who sought refuge from the desert and the perils of the open road. These caravans would stay for days at a time, enjoying the gracious generosity that has remained a living tradition to the present day.
Hospitality is one of Uzbekistan features. Hospitality in Uzbek families is appreciated higher than the wealth of a table and prosperity of the family. Not to receive a guest means to disgrace the family, kin and makhalla. In Uzbekistan not everything is used to be measured with money, and as a result, you unexpectedly find yourself in the atmosphere of those forgotten values that always were important and universal in all times!
Hosts welcome esteemed guests at the gate. As a rule, men shake hands to each other and show their interest in each-other's health, business and other things. It is appropriate to greet women with slight bow, attaching right hand over the heart.
Then guests are invited inside and to the most honorable seats at the table, or dastarkhan in Uzbek. By the ancient custom men and women should seat at the separate tables, but this custom is preserved in whole only in suburbs. The head of the family himself seats guests round the table, and the most honored guests are seated away from the entrance.
A few politely spoken words in Uzbek language at the oriental bazaar (our guides will prompt to you) will make you a magician! As a result, you will not be able to avoid a compulsory entertainment with the fruits from generous Uzbek orchards and melon plantations.
You will be pleasantly surprised with an intense and very heartwarming process of hospitality, as in Uzbekistan the guests are not divided into own and others’!
There is always a very high probability that you will be invited to dastarkhan to eat a pilaf or shashlik into one’s house
Any meal begins and ends with tea drinking. At the beginning the table is served with sweets, baked goods, dried fruits, nuts, fruits and vegetables, then it is served with snacks and at the end – with pilaf or other festal dish.
The host of the house pours the tea. The traditional element of hospitality is the peculiar small amount of tea to be poured: the more honored guest, the less amount of tea is in his cup. This custom is explained in such way: the more guest asks the host for more, the better. It is the sign of respect to the house. If tea is remained in the bottom of the piala, the host pours it out and again fills piala with tea.
If you’re invited home for a meal this can be your best introduction to local customs and traditions as well as to local cuisine. Don’t go expecting a quick bite. Your host is likely to take the occasion very seriously. Uzbeks, for example, say mehmon otanda ulugh, ‘the guest is greater than the father’. It’s important to arrive with a gift. Something for the table (eg some fruit from the market) will do. Better yet would be something for your hosts’ children or their parents, preferably brought from your home country (eg sweets, postcards, badges, a picture book). Pulling out your own food or offering to pay someone for their kindness is likely to humiliate them (although some travellers hosted by very poor people have given a small cash gift to the eldest child, saying that it’s ‘for sweets’). Don’t be surprised if you aren’t thanked: gifts are taken more as evidence of God’s grace than of your generosity.
You should be offered water for washing, as you may be eating with your hands at some point. Dry your hands with the cloth provided; shaking the water off your hands is said to be impolite. Wait until you are told where to sit; honoured guests are often seated by Kyrgyz or Kazakh hosts opposite the door (so as not to be disturbed by traffic through it, and because that is the warmest seat in a yurt). Men (and foreign women guests) might eat separately from women and children of the family.
The meal might begin with a mumbled prayer, followed by tea. The host breaks and distributes bread. After bread, nuts or sweets to ‘open the appetite’, business or entertainment may begin. The meal itself is something of a free-for-all. Food is served, and often eaten, from common plates, with hands or big spoons. Always eat, offer and accept food with your right hand, never your left. Pace yourself – eat too slowly and someone may ask if you’re ill or unhappy; too eagerly and your plate will be immediately refilled. Praise the cook early and often; your host will worry if you’re too quiet.
Traditionally, a host will honour an important guest by sacrificing a sheep for them. During these occasions the guest is given the choicest cuts, such as the eyeball, brain or meat from the right cheek of the animal. Try to ensure that your presence doesn’t put your host under financial hardship. At least try to leave the choicest morsels for others. If alcohol consumption is modest, the meal will end as it began, with tea and a prayer.