The nomad-descendents of Central Asia often follow the rule of thumb “the more meat, the better.” This includes horse meat, from time to time. But more often: horse milk, called kumys notes Marina Kanevskaya, UM Russian professor. “Horsemilk was also used for years to treat tuberculosis—so fatty that it stops the spread.” Chef Boy Ari had to wonder: “Would mayonnaise work for that?”
This conversation occured during Part 1 of this 2-part Flash in the Pan. On that night, Chef Boy Ari schmoozed it up with some of Missoula’s finest—schmoozing between mouthfulls of plov, that is. Plov is the Uzbeki national dish, whose inner secrets are alleged to be carried only by men. The event was a Tajik dinner party that turned into a full-on Cental Asian meltdown when 14 Uzbeki businessmen showed up bearing plov. One of them had a purple and black square hat.
Determined to learn more about this plov, I asked around: “Is it true that men make the best plov?” and “Why?” These questions helped me penetrate the thick layers of nuance, tradition, and mystery inherent therein.
A common response to my queries was “Women do it every day, so it gets old. When men do it, they do their best.” When I asked Malika Kamilova, a Tajik high school student who has been in Missoula two months, why Uzbeki men make the best plov. She said “maybe it’s because they use more meat.”
Kamilova went on to explain that plov changes from one house to another. Regardless, it is always best when cooked over a fire, in a metal dish called a Kazan.
Ray Risho of Perugia Restaurant, who has prepared his share of plov, believes women can make it just as well as men—the important thing is the principle. “The rice is twice-cooked” says Risho. “Boiling water is poured over washed rice, and let soak for hours. Meanwhile, carrots and onions are caramelized in a pan with oil, meat, garlic, other vegetables, and spices. The soaked rice is layered on top of the caramelized meat and veggies, water is added, and it’s all cooked again. After letting the plov rest, invert it, and serve.”
A few days later on campus, and I ran into a man who looked Uzbeki. After confirming that he spoke English, I asked the man, whose name is Hosiljon Rakmonor, how to make plov.
He folded his hands behind his back. “It seems to us such a simple thing. Our fathers taught us when we were young, taking us to parties and showing us things. Together with our fathers and grandfathers, it was very interesting to the child. So it was easy to learn how to prepare the plov.
I asked: “Can women make plov as well as men?”
“If a woman wants to eat man’s plov” he said, “they must order their husband or their brother to make it. That way, they can eat with pleasure. If you want to eat something that is prepared perfectly, you must have the master prepare it. Man is the master of plov.”
Finally, I asked if he had any advice for aspiring plov masters—male or female.
“First of all, if we want to make something good or tasty or best...first we ask god for help. Always when I am preparing, I ask for power and knowledge. With heat we do everything: onion, carrot, garlic, meat, rice. And we use tasteful things, like spices and pepper, so the plov becomes very tasteful.”
Just then, the Uzbeki guy with the purple and black square hat walked by. I very much wanted to trade hats, but all I had was my old baseball cap with an “X” on it—hardly worthy of his.
I offered anyway. He said something in Uzbek, and his friend explained “In our country, you don’t give away your dopey (“doe-pay”), because it is very special. But, he says that he has a dopey for you back at his room.”
Later that night, I showed up at Karimov Turanboy’s room with two hats from Quality Supply, both purchased years ago. One, a woolen cap with a visor that I wear almost every cold day. The other, an un-worn leather hat.
Turanboy handed me a dopey that looked identical to his. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Made from leather, silk, and cotton, the dopey had purple designs against a shiny black base.
I held out my hats, and he shook his head. I believed him when he said “niet,” and I didn’t insist. But in retrospect, maybe he meant “maybe.” Maybe he was saying “you have to ask me three more times and then shove it into my chest and then I’ll take it.” But Sensitive New Age Guys like me know that “niet” means “niet”—and we take it for an answer.
But the next day, I went back to Quality Supply and bought Karimov Turanboy a Carhartt baseball cap with fold-down earflaps—can you get more Montana than that? This time, I didn’t take “niet” for an answer.
E-mail Chef Boy Ari: firstname.lastname@example.org