Tuesday, September 1, 2015


The one and only Uzbeki restaurant in the world (at least: that I have ever eaten at) provides an Alice In Wonderland stage set that is half Moghul Empire India and half Ali Baba’s Cave somewhere in Morocco. A plump woman in a skirt made out of gold bangles sings Abba songs in Spanish, reading the lyrics from a computer screen placed conveniently in front of her, accompanied by disco music pulsating from a karaoke app. Still more plump women gyrate enthusiastically, but go outside to smoke when the singer offers an authentic Uzbeki song. The service is beyond belief dreadful though the food is delicious. Borscht paled with sour cream provides a drowning-pool for strands of red and green cabbage, cubed beetroot, chopped parsley. Meat blintzes are served in suet so thin we could be eating dim sun in Chinatown (this is a compliment). But what has any of this to do with Uzbekistan, except that it is as near as I have ever been to Uzbekistan, except by Internet?

The answer is, that I really do not want to have to write anything down about Uzbekistan, because I know that doing so will trigger my personal Jiminy Cricket, the still small voice of my conscience, who will ask me how can I possibly have eaten in an Uzbeki restaurant, and thereby spoil my day. Of course, if I were to boycott every restaurant with a national identity that did not meet my moral standards, I would be dining on Swedish herring and Uruguayan coffee for the rest of my life, and not much else. But in the end I must write, and here is what I have to say. That Uzbekistan is really a modern invention, like Jordan and Palestine, which emerged out of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, though by then the region that is now Uzbekistan was already part of the Russian Empire, and remained so, despite initial resistance, when the Russian Empire became the Soviet Empire. The region was key to Soviet agro-economic strategies, producing cotton in such abundance it became known as "white gold", and grain in such abundance it became known as "poison, do not eat this", because abundance was achieved, not by intense prayer to a generous fertility god, but through the excessive overuse of agrochemicals, which ultimately ruined the food and depleted the water supplies, leaving the land so badly degraded it has now had to be abandoned and will take generations to recover, leaving the Aral Sea entirely, and several rivers in addition partially dry.

Leadership of this glorious prototype for the future feeding of the world has been by President Islom Karimov, now in his 70s, an apprentice of Gosplan, the Orwellian State Planning Committee of the Soviet era. On the list of tasks already lined up for whoever has the misfortune to succeed him: radical Islamic terrorism, a failed economy, and several hundred years of history which includes nothing of democracy or human rights. I still recommend the pilaf.

Marks for: 0

Marks against: as many as there are grains of white gold in the Aral Sea

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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