Tea and spice having been the family trade for 600 years, it's no wonder spice master, Mirfayz Ubaydov, knew just how to go about setting up a teahouse when he opened the doors of what soon became Bukhara's favourite chaikhana back in 2005.
The cool and softly lit teahouse is a great place to chill out before, after and during a day's sightseeing and shopping in the centre of the old city. Furnished with traditional Uzbek chairs and bench seating, the walls lined with antiques and suzanis and popular with tourists and locals, the teahouse is open every day from 9am-8pm.
Favorite Dish: Tea (green, black, ginger, saffron and the family's own special spiced blend), coffee (no cappucinos) served with traditional Uzbek sweetmeats - kishmish (tiny black raisins), nuts and halva are all that's on offer here through the day. You're welcome to linger as long as you like over them - that's what the chaikhana is all about.
Even the most dedicated salad-soup-and-plov-lover lover feels the need for something different occasionally, and after 10 days in Uzbekistan, we had reached that point so, on our first night on Bukhara we made our way to the Bella Italia. To my eye the restaurant looked more like something you'd find in down-town (no, make that edge-of-town) Flagstaff than Ferrara, but it had something of a rustic Italian look about it, and we didn't have to sit on cushions.
It's quite big and didn't have a lot of atmosphere, there were no locals in that night (are there ever?), only a couple of largeish tour groups - Bukhara usually comes in the middle of any tour programme sp perhaps they were looking for a change from plov and lagman too.
It was fine - there were the usual Italian standards of pizza and pasta, risotto and some secondi piatti that bore more than a passing resemblence to Italian food - maybe not as Mama would make it but not bad for something so very far from home. A reasonable bottle of red went down well with our various choices.
Favorite Dish: Pizzas were the choice of most of our group, all were declared quite satisfactory. I was a little bolder and chose a dish of involtini - it was ok, though the sour cream sauce made it more like Stroganoff that something from an Italian kitchen. Our gluten-intolerant group member was pleased to see rice that wasn't plov on the menu and declared her mushroom risotto a hit.
In most cities, a place as historic and interesting as Bukhara's 16th C Sarrafon Hammam would be either a functioning hammam (bath-house) or a tourist attraction. Given that most of Bukhara's historic buildings are now all part of the great Bukhara Bazaar, you could also expect the place to be full of small shops selling the usual mix of textiles and tourist-oriented wares that are on sale just about everywhere you go. In actual fact, it is none of these things. Instead it has become a restaurant, though from what we saw, one that is hardly ever open. In fact, the only time we saw it open was the night we went there for dinner, and then there was only one other lone diner. All very odd. I can only assume it is only open for pre-booked parties and maybe our other diner slipped in on the strength of our booking.
Whatever the arrangements need to be, it's certainly worth checking out the possibility of dining here, not so much for the food, which was nice but fairly standard Uzbek fare, but for the chance to explore the labrynth of rooms that constitute the old hammam. One vaulted room leads to another, all tiled in various patterns of blue, aquamarine and green, some big, some small. Niches set with luxurious cushions and bolsters hint at large parties being catered for but all we found was silence and some old pewter bathing utensils.
Favorite Dish: Our meal was served to us on a low table in a suzani-hung room. Piles of velvet and brocade cushions added to the Arabian Nights atmosphere as dish after dish was laid before us. All the usual suspects were there in the way of salads - grilled aubergine and tomato; fresh radishes; onion and pomegranate; tomatoes, peppers, feta cheese and olives in a Greek-style combination; excellent beetroot with topped with creamy cheese. Then came the hot appetisers - steamed and spiced pumpkin and baby turnips, hachapuri - pastries stuffed with cheese, chuchvara - little fried dumplings. Non - of course. Soup - of course. Main course - I can't remember, maybe I turned it down, there is a limit to how much anyone can eat. As always, fruit to finish - sweet crisp white and watermelon - Uzbek melons really must be the best in the world. Oh, and let's not forget the grapes.
Uzbek meals may have a certain inevitability about them, but well-cooked, the food is both very satisfying and very much to my personal taste. This wasn't a standout in terms of the cooking - though the salads were, as always, delicious but we all felt extremely well-fed as we wandered back to our hotel. A brisk walk was out of the question.
2005 When, on our first night in Bukhara, we found the restaurant in the Sarrafon Hammom was closed, and our group of five wasn't big enough for the Lyabi House Hotel to accept a booking, we opted for the nearest alternative - the chaikhana in the south-east corner of the Lyabi-Khauz - and we ate there every meal from then on. You don't go to Uzbekistan for gourmet meals - and their staple fare of plov, salads and shashlyk suited us fine. They kept the fruit we bought in the market in the morning in their fridge while we went sight-seeing and served them to us chilled and washed at the end of our meals, the beer was cold and the service cheerful. The passing parade of locals and the few tourists still around so late in the season was entertaining, the ducks on the pool quacked and splashed, the stars came out and we were quite content to sit out, relax and simply soak up the atmosphere.
2009 I'm happy to say the Lyabi-Khauz was just as inviting this time as it was when we first visited Bukhara 4 years ago. And yes, we ate there often again, 3 lunches and a dinner, though it being a bit chilly at night we opted to eat in the indoor restaurant rather than out on one of the terraces.
Favorite Dish: There are no great surprises at the Lyabi-Khauz but the salads and grilled vegetable shaslyks make it a good choice of vegetarians, the fried lagman (noodles in a tomato and meat sauce) is very tasty, plov is always on the menu and the somsas (stuffed pastries) are good too.
Lyabi Hauz is a place where there is a pool in the middle (Hauz=Pool). This pool is surrounded by local cafes/restaurants and you will see historical inns, etc close by. This is the stop for almost all tourist groups. The staff are very friendly. Even there is not so many choices, you can have local food, mainly red meat, here. Sashlik (Turkish sish kebap) is main local food, generally served with salad (tomato, cucumber, onion, olive oil). You can have wine or beer.
Favorite Dish: Sashlik
Wandering around in Bukhara, no matter if it is hot or normal temperature will make you thirsty at a point in time (or at several points in time).
For any stop in between sightseeing I can only very much recommend to take a break in the Chaikhana Silk Road Spices. This is (at least for me) where the atmosphere of ancient Silk Road seems to come alive :-)
The owners of Silk Road Spices have a long history in spices trading. According to their website, Mirfayz Ubaydov's ancestors have been spice traders since 650 years.
They even appeared in French TV documentation, made about the life of Ella Maillart, Swizz traveller and journalist, who was visiting Silk Road Spices during her travels in Central Asia.
So you cannot only expect the best of spices there, but also a lot of fame and style.
Once you step through the door, you are in a beautiful shady courtyard with lovely furniture, which invites you for a long stay. Tea selection ranges from green tea to ginger tea, saffron tea (real saffron!) and other spiced teas or cinnamon coffee. Whatever you select, it is accompanied by very very tasteful snacks, as you can see in the picture.
The prices are not cheap, for sure. Each tea serving is 1000 sum (but it is a big pot of tea; in the picture under the red "hat"). But believe me, you will not regret this lovely taste and come back next day :-)
Update, September 2007: I have added the actaul website. The old link was out of order.
Favorite Dish: Very difficult to name my favourite tea. First I had ginger tea, and later cinnamon coffee. All very much delicious.
This place is a gem! It was recommended to me by Ingrid (Trekki – see her tip about it here) and definitely lived up to the expectations she had raised. We came here after a long day’s sightseeing and as soon as we stepped into the cool shady courtyard we knew we were in for a treat!
We sat on cushioned benches at one of the long wooden tables and immediately a friendly waitress came to ask if we’d like the fans turned on (“yes please!!”) and give us the small menu. The choice of drinks isn’t huge but everything is excellent. Chris had the cardamom coffee while I chose ginger tea. Our waitress explained that the latter is made with several spices, including star anise, black and white pepper, and would be quite hot – sounded good to me, and was! With our drinks we were served a selection of sweetmeats: halva, raisins and nuts. For this and a bottle of cold water we paid 7,000 som (just over £2, the price of a cappuccino in London!) This isn’t cheap by Uzbek standards but is excellent value as it includes free top-ups (offered, but unnecessary given the size of my teapot), and the tasty selection of sweetmeats.
The café is run by the same family who own the spices stall in the Tok-i-Zargaron (Jewellers Trading Dome) where we’d earlier bought some six-spice tea (see my shopping tip), and this is also available to drink here. The family have been involved in the spice trade for hundreds of years, so where could be more appropriate to sample these drinks while on your Silk Road journey?
Bukhara isn’t a place for fancy restaurants but what its eating places lack in the quality of their cuisine, they make up for in their setting and atmosphere. The place to eat is in one of the chaikhanas and restaurants that surround the pool of the Lyab-i-Hauz, which at night is especially lovely – the coloured lights strung in the trees are reflected in its waters and locals and tourists alike relax over a green tea or a cold beer, an ice cream or a grilled shashlik.
We had three meals here altogether. The first evening we ate in the chaikhana on the eastern side of the pool. The setting was great, the large beers refreshing after our hot day in the bus crossing the desert, and the bread excellent (more of a flaky pastry than what we could call bread, and different from any we had elsewhere in the country). The chicken shashliks we both chose however were disappointing – they looked good (see photo 3) but were fatty and bony, with very little meat on them. The price was reasonable, at 14,000 som altogether (less than £6 or $11), but given how little we ate was not such good value as other meals we had in Uzbekistan. And I should mention that it was the morning after this meal that I experienced my first attack of “Uzbek tummy”, though I can’t be sure I caught it here of course ;(
Favorite Dish: On our second day we had both lunch and dinner in the restaurant on the north-western side of the pool and were much happier with the standard of the food. At lunch time we ate inside with others of our group, the cool interior air-conditioning providing welcome relief from the intense sun (see photo 5). We shared some salads, a basket full of great bread (both the flaky pastry and more usual varieties), sparkling water and Sprite. The bill was only a few thousand som (sorry, I didn’t keep an exact note!)
In the evening Chris and I returned here on our own and enjoyed dinner at a table right by the water’s edge. We chose a couple of salads from a selection brought to our table (so no need to worry about any language difficulties) and the same excellent bread. Chris followed this with a dish of noodles topped with a fried egg (a little odd but he enjoyed it) and I had what was called the “special dish” – layers of meat (mutton), potato, tomatoes and onions cooked and served in the one pot (photo 4). This was quite tasty and very filling. We washed these down with the usual cold local beers and paid 20,000 som (£8 / $16) for all this, including a tip for our very friendly waiter. This was altogether a much pleasanter meal than the previous evening’s and I would certainly recommend this restaurant if you’re looking for a typical Bukhara “night out”!
I'm not sure if this place has a name - it is just an open air cafe in Samani Park, near the funfair.
We stopped by for a snack lunch of samsa and green tea.
Favorite Dish: We finally got to try samsa, which I had read about in the guidebooks, which say it is like an Indian samosa. This wasn't - it was definitely a Cornish pasty! A tasty change from shashlik!
There is a cafe called Cafe Lyabi House facing to Lyabi House. It is different from Hotel Lyabi House near by, and this is a general chaihana (local cafe). We had bad experience when we went to take dinner there.
We ordered Shashulyk (Ram) but they served much diffrent type of meet and way of cooking that we have had before in Uzbekistan. The meats were rare and we ask to grill more, not burn, but they didi not pay attention much for quality of the foods. We, including our interpretor, upset a lot and we dicided to leave the cafe. However they included the Shashulyk on the bill. Interpretor negotiated with the cafe and they did not accepted. Also they did not say anything about poor quality of served meat.
In general, there are not many options to take dinner in Bukhara so it is better to ask your hotel to provide dinner. The cost is similer and taste is quite resonable.
By now, you readers of my writings about Bukhara already should have got the idea that I love yoghurt :-) And this implies yoghurt drinks, the ones I know as "lassie" from Indian restaurants. Obviously they also serve these drinks in Uzbekistan ! And obviously, Uzbekistan yoghurt is the best I had so far (well, until I came to the Pamirs, but this was later during my summer travels). It is sour and has a just delicious taste !
When I was waiting for the evening to arrive in Bukhara to get some nice shots at Kaylon Square, I was looking for a place to stay (and to find a decent toilet..) and found this lovely restaurant just at the square. As you can see on the pictures, it is the best spot to spend the time and wait for sunsets to arrive ! From the little balcony upstairs I could watch the square and the buildings until light was at its best.
Favorite Dish: Their menu sounded delicious as well, and I was all over excited to read that they had this lassie style drink available ! They call it "Chaka Chulup", so this was what I have ordered. I even ordered two of them, as it tasted ahh so delicious !
What I didn't noticed or thought about was the ice cubes.... They gave me the **** later, in the fullest sense of the word !
However, I am not 100% sure if it was this drink, but it was the only time I had ice cubes in anything I ate or drank in Bukhara.
I do not blame it on the restaurant, and please, dear readers and future visitors of Bukhara, also don't panic when reading this – it is not the restaurants fault, but our whimpy western stomages, which are used to plastic food and overdoses of vitamins and antibiotics, which make us go **** after having had something with ice cubes abroad.
Please go and have your drinks and meals at this restaurant, BUT order the drink(s) without ice cubes.
(Prices and full name of the restaurant later, when I have access to my travel diary again).
Bukhara has countless little restaurants and chaikhanas. But one of my most favourite is the one near Bolo Hauz Mosque. When wandering around there, I saw that it was not only located under a lot of shady trees, but that it was full of locals, which is the best sign for me that food is good.
The food kept what location and locals promised :-) It was not only delicious but also very much per serving. And, yoghurt lover I am, I could NOT resist this wonderful freshly made thick yoghurt. Oh... even now, I want to go back there for having real yoghurt !!
Favorite Dish: I came back several times, and mostly had shashlyk with salads (tomato, sheep cheese, cucumber and a kind of tzatziki) and this delicious yoghurt. Once I also had manty, which are steam cooked, meat filled kind of dumplings (vague similarity with ravioli).
On my pictures:
Picture 1: Chaikhana Bolo Hauz
Picture 2: variety and amount of fresh salad
Picture 3: freshly made manty (oh yumm)
Prices: for 3 types of salad plus 2 manty I paid around 2000 sum, which is very very reasonable !
A dinner in this medresa is normally included in the Tour programs: "Evening dinner with folklore show , you will enjoy the Bukharian dance and fashion show in one of the fantastic places of the Central Asia ". This is what travel agencies say.....I , as a backpacker I only looked, so I cannot say anything about prices, but it seems a nice ( and touristic) experience.
At the south end of Labi Hauz a guy sells soft serve ice cream for 100 sum per cone ($0.10). In Bukhara's heat, this isn't rocket science. I went there at least three times a day and he just laughed whenever I came buy. It's pretty good soft serve, too.
If you're tired of getting ripped off down at Labi Hauz, head to the Ark. Go across the street and through the small park. At the other side are two choyxonas - one on the right and one on the left. The one on the left has no sign but is Choyxona Teatr (it's beside a theatre) and has occuped that spot for 80 years. They treat you like one of them, are curious about your country and charge you regular local prices for your food.
Favorite Dish: It's standard Uzbek fare - mutton on a stick (shashlyk), mutton with rice (plov) and mutton with noodle soup (laghman).