Writer Caroline Eden on her culinary journey by means of Central Asia

How did you collect the recipes?

I come to the food and the recipes first as a travel writer and use the recipes to tell the story – almost like photos. I am not an anthropological recipe researcher; I am an outsider and I do not pretend to be authentic. All of the recipes are simply reminders of meals and meetings that I recreated at home.

Which flavors are best for Central Asian cuisine?

They use a lot of really good fresh cumin and have a fatty, reddish colored rice that you just can’t get across here. You will also see a lot of quince – in jam or to flavor rice dishes.

What are some of the typical dishes of the region?

Samsa – which I love – are puff pastries with lamb, cumin and onions. They are sold on street corners and have light spices, which is very typical. And plov. The people are very precious, and it’s a simple recipe – lamb, mutton or beef with rice, carrots, onions and maybe a garlic in the middle, cooked in a large cauldron, with quail eggs, barberries and quinces, depending on the season. It’s amazing – great hangover food. And lots of green or black tea and vodka.

Which memory of your trip is the most poignant?

The story that moved me the most is in my essay ‘Mosque’, which is set in the city of Almaty. We went to a neighborhood where many Uyghurs live [a Turkic-speaking minority ethnic group]We had an amazing dinner at a local restaurant (we ate a fantastic flavorful tofu dish) and ended up talking to locals who told us their persecution stories. It was during Ramadan and they invited us to visit the mosque for their Iftar festival the following night. We were their guests of honor – it was incredibly moving.

Caroline Eden’s book Red Sands: Reportage and recipes through Central Asia, from the hinterland to the heartland, is published by Quadrille. MSRP £ 25

Published in Issue 10 (Winter 2020) of National Geographic Traveler Food

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