Longitude's Book of the Month focuses on a travel title that inspires us to leave our armchairs for new destinations. This edition centers on Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford's Samarkand, Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus. The reviews and interviews are written and conducted by our editors. Our selections are culled from the regular Book of the Week feature on our blog.
By Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford
"Can any other place on earth provide such a feast for the senses?" Caroline Eden wonders in the introduction to her new book Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus. She describes her first visit to the fabled city of the Silk Road as time travel to a place that has been at the crossroads of culture for centuries. Along with co-author Eleanor Ford, Eden captures the sensual experience of Samarkand through sumptuous recipes,
gorgeous color photographs and personal reminiscences and historical anecdotes that fill out the textures and flavors of the place.
Situated in the valley of the Zerafshan River in Uzbekistan, Samarkand served as a Silk Road stopover that drew travelers, tradesmen, merchants and great conquerors like Alexander the Great and Tamerlane from far-off cities like Shiraz and Xi'an. Arriving after an arduous journey across great stretches of steppe and ranges of mountains, the weary traveler would see the turquoise oasis of mosques and minarets, domes and mausoleums shimmering like a mirage.
Between the sixth and thirteenth centuries Samarkand starred as one of the world's finest marketplaces. Eden and Ford bring that ancient bazaar to life through its diverse flavors. Profiling the myriad peoples who passed through Samarkand over the centuries ––
Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, Turks, Koryo-Sarams, Jews and Afghans, the authors introduce recipes little-known to the Western palate, like Lamb Kebabs with Cinnamon, Cloves and Hot Hummus, Pumpkin Stuffed with Spiced Chickpeas, Pomegranate and Vodka Sorbet as well as the region's all-important breads. Gorgeously produced, the expansive cookbook belongs in any traveler's kitchen, which, if it is employed correctly, will soon be full of the delicious aromas of the Central Asian steppe.
A Longitude Interview
The multi-talented traveler, photographer, journalist and author of the new cookbook Samarkand Caroline Eden answers our questions about culinary travel and the fabled flavors of the Silk Road.
Co-authored with Eleanor Ford and with photography from Laura Edwards, the beautifully produced cookbook includes travel essays and mouth-watering recipes that place Central Asia and the Caucasus back on the culinary map.
LONGITUDE: Uzbekistan may not be on every traveler's bucket list. What first drew you to Samarkand?
EDEN: The wonderful Islamic architecture primarily, but also just the name…"Samarkand." It conjures up camel caravans, lost cities, the Great Game and Tamerlane.
LONGITUDE: In the introduction you write about the "inextricable link between food and travel." How do you define this relationship?
EDEN: If you think back to memorable travel experiences or holidays you've had it's likely you'll recall a great meal, a fantastic restaurant you discovered or a market that impressed you. Food is an easy way into a culture, it opens doors and gets people chatting everywhere in the world. It's inclusive, and everyone has an opinion and something to say about food.
LONGITUDE: What about Samarkand's history makes it a unique destination, particularly for foodies?
EDEN: The Uzbek city of Samarkand has been at the crossroads of food culture for centuries. Many ethnic groups have passed through over the years, sharing and influencing each other's cuisine and leaving their culinary stamp. Of all the influences today the most obvious are Russian, Korean, Tajik and Turkish styles and flavours.
LONGITUDE: What unique flavor or ingredient do you most associate with Central Asia? Do you have a favorite dish profiled in the cookbook?
EDEN: Generally, tart flavours from pomegranates, raisins, quince and barberries and herbs like purple basil and tarragon. As for a favourite, it has to be plov. It's a real hero dish, and comforting too. It is slow cooked, soft and filling. Basically, plov is rice, onions and carrots with either lamb or beef but in reality it is much more than that. For Uzbeks it represents hospitality and community. In cities, the air is filled with the aroma of carrots, meat and rice that drifts up from bubbling cauldron-like kazans (the giant pots that plov is cooked in, usually outside).
Plov is also a fittingly hearty dish for a country whose national sport is kurash, a form of upright wrestling.
LONGITUDE: How did travel figure into your research for this book?
EDEN: I have been travelling in the former Soviet Union since 2009, so this book is really a collection of those experiences paired with 100 unusual and (mostly) easy-to-do recipes. In Samarkand I write about foraging in the High Pamirs, shopping in Osh and meeting with a Jewish community in the mountains of Azerbaijan -- all stories with a foodie slant, but travel essays essentially. The LA Times described the book as "a Lonely Planet guide to Uzbekistan and beyond, with a hundred recipes," which neatly sums it up.
The book is heavily on the side of travel despite being a cookbook, some have said it's a "culinary travelogue," which is also about right.
LONGITUDE: What are the best ways for a traveler to experience the culinary delights of a particular culture?
EDEN: Get into people's homes or eat where the locals eat. It sounds obvious but a good homestay can really get you involved with the kitchen and people are usually proud of their cooking skills.
LONGITUDE: Are there any other books about this area of the world you would recommend to someone planning a trip there?
LONGITUDE: What sites outside of the marketplace are not to be missed in Samarkand?
EDEN: So many really, but my must-do is the Shah-i-Zinda. It's firmly on the beaten track and features on all itineraries but nothing can quite prepare you for the amazing tile-work and mausoleums. It is stirringly beautiful, especially first-thing in the morning.
For more recommended reading on Central Asia and the Silk Road click here, then browse our site for books on your next destination!