Archive for the ‘Food and Drink’ Category


Chateau Haut-Brion is one of the most-storied and beloved chateaux in Bordeaux.  It was classified by the French government as a “first growth” chateau in the 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines.  That means that it was considered at the time, and is still considered by many people, to be one of the top five wines produced in Bordeaux, one of the top wine regions in the world.

Fine Bordeaux red wine has never been cheap — in fact, the first growths were initially chosen by determining the five most expensive Bordeaux red wines — but the modern price leaps of Bordeaux have been exponential, rendering most of these great wines undrinkable as they’re just too valuable to pour down your throat.  Of course, this is an incredible shame as wines from these five chateaux are typically some of the most highly rated wines to drink in the world according to experts.  It also means that I have only had a few opportunities to try these wines, mostly when I was I teaching assistant for the Introduction to Wines course at Cornell in the mid-90s.

Needless to say, I didn’t think my next chance to have one of these stellar, pricey vins would be in Dushanbe.  I was wrong.

Expat oenophile and friend Oleg found a bottle of 1993 Ch. Haut-Brion tucked away on the shelves of a Dushanbe grocery store near the train station.  Now, the stores located on this strip of Rudaki Avenue are where we usually go to stock up on imported Russian beer, but finding a fine Bordeaux there?  I mean, no way.  Except this time, there it was, an almost 20 year old bottle of the good stuff.

How good?  Let’s look for empirical evidence at two of my favorite online wine resources:

  1. Price average $281 per bottle from http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/haut-brion/1993; and
  2. Rating average 93 points from http://www.grapestories.com/wine.asp?iWine=7064.

That’s pretty good.

To his everlasting credit, Oleg bought the bottle to my final dinner in Dushanbe.  As we sat on the tapchan, surrounded by non bread and Tajik vodka, we had the chance to sip one of the finest wines known on Earth.  I didn’t write any tasting notes, but I remember the intricate flavors, the smoky fruit, and the surprising strength of a wine that old.  Taking off my wine snob hat, let me just say that it was a damn fine wine.

An unanswered question is: how the hell did a ’93 Haut-Brion find its way to Tajikistan?  There were no tax stamps and no back label, which suggest that the bottle came from someone important’s private cellar.  The skittishness of the seller, as reported by Oleg, and his vagueness about the bottle’s provenance support that guess as well.  Could we have enjoyed some of President Rahmon’s private stash?  Who knows, but I like to think that we did.

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  • Шашлык [shashlik] n. grilled meat, typically served on sticks or skewers and prepared over hot coals; commonly found in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Russia.


To echo something I said in the last installment of Tajik Word of the Day, no trip to Tajikistan would be, could be, complete without eating шашлык.  Ground lamb шашлык, known as farsh, is being prepared in a riverside park in Khujand in the photo above.

There’s a wide variety of types of шашлык, ranging from simple chunks of meats on a skewer to more elaborate, and typically fatty, concoctions.  For example, roulet is a type of шашлык in which strips of lamb meat are rolled together with strips of lamb fat to form little swirls, which are then skewered and grilled.  Yum, lipids.  Шашлык also comes in a wide variety of different meats.  Lamb and beef are the most common here in Dushanbe, but I absolutely loved the yak шашлык I had in a re-purposed storage container in the Murghab bazaar.

I need to start figuring out how to get yak meat in Harare.

Extreme zoom!

As you can see, no stick of шашлык is complete without a pile of raw onions on top.  A liberal dousing with vinegar is also a must, at least for me.

Is it wrong that one of the things I’ll miss about Tajikistan is the шашлык?

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  • ош [osh] n. an entree made from rice, shredded carrots, chickpeas, lamb, and often other ingredients, like garlic, all cooked in a cast-iron pot with cottonseed oil; the national dish of several Central Asian countries, including Tajikistan; also called plov and pilaf.

Delicious! (Most of the time anyway)

No trip to Tajikistan would be, could be, complete without eating ош.

Tajik cuisine has three standard dishes: osh (or as I typically call it, plov, its Russian name), laghman (a noodle dish, sometimes in soup, sometimes not), and qurtob (chunks of bread soaked in oil and spicy yogurt).  These recipes are also claimed by Tajikistan’s neighbors in Central Asia, and every country, heck, every region within every country, proudly say that they make the best versions of each of these staples.  I like the Gharmi version of osh the best, I think — the garlic they add tweaks the usual just enough, and in a good way, to make it stand out.

I’m going to have “TWotD” posts on each of the three key dishes of the Tajik people in the coming weeks.  Hopefully, I’ll post recipes too so all you enterprising home chefs can give them a try if you want, though the quality of meat at home is too high to get a true sense of the plov-eating experience here.

*** UPDATE: Of course, how could I forget shashlik?  I’ll be doing a post on that delicacy of meat chunks soon as well.

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Delicious and not quite nutritious

Time: 1:35 p.m.  Place: Dushanbe city, Shah Mansour district.  Cost: 6 somoni (approximately $1.45).

There’s something special about a Tajik-style hot dog.  It isn’t the dog itself, which is a garden variety turkey dog that’s been steamed.  And while the bun is okay, and certainly better than many American buns (though not reaching the heights of awesomeness of a New England-style hot dog bun), it’s nothing to write home (or on a blog) about.  Rather, it is the sauce, or I should say, the sauces — for a Tajik dog invariably is topped with both a weirdly spicy ketchup and a weirdly watery mayonnaise — and the shredded carrots that make it something different and cool.  Okay, cool may be too strong, but it definitely different and it is pretty tasty too.

That my Tajik-style hot dog was accompanied by an RC cola and some bizarre chicken-flavored salty, crispy snack, just brings the meal up a notch.  Add to this that the total cost was significantly under two dollars, and you can see why this meal just may be one of the things I miss the most about Tajikistan when I leave.  This and the mountains and the expats and the tree-lined streets and the odd happenstances.  But the Tajik dog is up there.

* * *

An apology: my posting here has been dilatory.  Expect it to improve.  In case you were wondering, things in TJ are great and November was a terrific month for me, so nothing bad was keeping me from this blog.  Just being busy and being lazy in roughly equal measure.

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Looking around the fine, fine Prague pub Hospoda U Nováka

Looking around the fine, fine Prague pub Hospoda U Nováka

The conference I was attending in Prague finished on Friday, so I had a day in the Czech capital on Saturday to be footloose and fancy-free.  Or, at least, a day to find something in English to read on the flights home and have a few beers.  After Skyping the parents and doing some shopping, I wandered along some of the back streets of the Nové Město, or “New Town,” which is so new, it was founded in 1348.

As I strolled in the rain along Voršilská, the precip picked up, and I ducked into a wine bar.  The place had a minimalist charm.  More importantly, the place had veltínské zelené.

After a couple cups of white, I got to chatting with the couple sitting next to me.  He was a MechE, she taught theatre, and both of them spoke English and excused my worse-than-execrable Czech.  They lived around the corner and after a hour or two of pleasantries, we got down to brass tacks.  No, not their opinion of Obama — that was old news — but rather where to have dinner.

They suggested, practically demanded, that I go to Hospoda U Nováka.  So, off we all trooped, half a block down and half a block over to the pub.  We arrived to find the joint packed, but the server recognized them immediately and sat me in a booth reserved for locals that was hidden behind swinging wooden doors.  Take a look at a panorama view of the place and see if you can find me hiding spot.

This review from the Prague Pubs website hardly does the Nováka justice, as the Gambrinus on tap was poured just right and my dinner was a perfect distillation of Czech traditional cuisine.  Czech food doesn’t fly in the same fancy circles as French or Italian, but at its best like at Nováka, it is sublime comfort food.  A cut of roast pork utterly surrounded by two types of sauerkraut (white and red) and two types of dumplings (bread and potato).  Maybe it’s called vepřo knedlo zelo in Czech, but whatever the name:  I call it simple and spectacular.

Feeling a bit tipsy, I headed into the still-drizzly Prague evening, off to the hotel and then to Dushanbe.

Thanks to Jeffrey Martin who took the photo above in September 2005, and who created the linked to panorama as well.

Nové město

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