Yes folks, it’s time to be a bit of a foodie and have a look at some of the cuisine I was able to try in Dushanbe last year, and I’ll talk about three places where I sat down to eat. Dushanbe is probably not on the list of destinations for foodies to head to worldwide. But I’ll tell you one thing you might not know, I’ll let you in on a little secret – I really like the food of not only Central Asia but in ex-Soviet States in general.
I actually sampled a different bunch of cuisines in Dushanbe, as it has a lot of influence from neighbouring Iran and the food of Russia and Ukraine, and indeed Turkey. Although you wouldn’t expect to be blown away by the food scene of a Central Asian country, you might be surprised in Dushanbe by the number of restaurants and options available there.
I was there for three nights, and so I stocked up from the grocery stores around where I stayed near the train station on the main drag, Rudaki Avenue. I skipped breakfast I think every morning, or if I did eat it would have been biscuits and bananas or something, I find bananas are a great staple to carry with you wherever you go when travelling.
The water in Tajikistan from the tap is not to be drunk (unless boiled thoroughly or purified), the same as in other countries in the region. So don’t eat salad if you have a weak gut like I have. I wanted a small, simple dinner on my last night when the little restaurant across the road shut at like 7pm or some strange time where I had planned to eat, so I grabbed a hot dog from a little shop down the road. I was sick a few hours later, rushing to the loo and I think it was because it had uncooked shredded carrot on it. I don’t think it was the meat but it’s possible because who knows how long hot dogs sit being kept warm, but I have always regretted eating salad overseas when I have. And I nearly stopped the lady from putting it on top of the hot dog, but didn’t and as I was eating it I wondered if I was going to regret it, and well, I did. But I survived the next day and the long journey to lake IskandurKul.
So, this might be the place you MUST try if you’re in Dushanbe because the menu is mostly local dishes, dishes common to Central Asia and Iran, and it’s a wonderful setting in and old building and you go up a staircase and at balcony level there are the tables. I found it to be busy with locals and maybe a couple of foreigners, which is always a good sign. It’s also on Rudaki Avenue, but a little way from where I was staying.
Here I had ‘Mastoba’ – according to the menu given it is the national dish of Tajikistan. I’m not 100% sure on the accuracy of that, I didn’t see it everywhere I went but then outside of Dushanbe I was mostly eating meals in people’s homes. Basically it was like ‘plov’, which I have talked about before and is big in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to name a couple of places… where it’s big? We are talking rice and meat, sometimes mixed with the rice, sometimes on top. The rice certainly is flavoured a little with the meat either way and may be mixed together with chickpeas or beans or other things depending on the place. However, this was like plov in a soup. Which I wasn’t expecting from the description I had. Nevertheless I liked it.
It was a nice place, the service was a bit on the ‘Soviet’ side in terms of friendliness, and it was here that I found out that ‘RC’ Cola was actually quite popular in Tajikistan. Some places only serve RC Cola rather than the more commonly known Pepsi and… the other one’s name escapes me for the moment, sorry.
So this is a Turkish Restaurant that feels a little like a fast food place I guess. In fact, I guess it kind of is. In Dushanbe, in fact in all of Central Asia as far as I know, you won’t find the common American fast food chains such as McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King…. You know what I mean. Well anyways, Café Merve was highly recommended, and so I thought I’d try it out.
It was an interesting place where I commented in my diary more about the restaurant than the food. It was extremely busy, but it was also very large and so there were many tables. They also did a lot of take away, and I was served by a nice chap who spoke a little English. It did seem that the waiters were all male, and then those cleaning the tables and taking dirty trays and plates away were female. The food was very cheap and very nice, I had a large plate of doner meat with rice and chips. It was filling and it all cost around $4USD including a drink.
This Ukrainian Restaurant was a little hard to find, right near the Anyi Theatre amongst a few others, but I found it around through an undercover outside section and down a corridor. Suddenly it opened up into more of a ‘tavern’ with little rooms with three or so tables in them, or a larger area with a bar. I often try to get stuck into my journey writing when at a restaurant when travelling, and so I hope for a table big enough for my camera and books and so forth, which this one had although the lighting was a bit low with my rapidly fading eyesight, but I managed and it’s not what you generally need from a restaurant!
The food was extremely tasty. I started with borscht – and if you haven’t had the red cabbage soup before in your life, you should you’ll be surprised just how tasty it is, especially if they add a little meat. And then again a very tasty dish, the pork hot pot. It was the most expensive of the three restaurants, but at less than $9USD, including drinks, who could possibly complain. As with Café Merve, there was a very large menu as well with Russian dishes as well as Ukrainian, and more on top of that.
All in all, these three places I would recommend in Dushanbe, I don’t think you’ll regret trying any of them. The food is good, hearty fare in general. In the rest of the country I was served a lot of stews – with mutton or beef, or shashlik – meat on a skewer, a favourite from Dushanbe to Moscow which you really can’t go wrong with. You’ll also find Russian style dumplings in good supply as well. Yes, you probably want to be some sort of carnivore to enjoy the cuisine of Tajikistan, vegetarian options are in short supply. But I have to say I was pretty happy with the food – bar one hot dog – in Tajikistan. Thanks for reading – May the Journey Never End!