Most people hear “Uzbekistan” and think “Pakistan,” or if they’re a little wiser to the region, images of the Silk Road cities pop into heads. I don’t think the capital, Tashkent, is a hot spot on Uzbekistan travel lists, but I actually enjoy living here. “Chou-chou” (not even sure if it’s spelled correctly because I only ever use/hear it spoken) is one of my favorite French words and translates to something encapsulating both cozy and beloved. While nothing to come to Tashkent specifically for, these are my “chou-chou” places that make the city feel like home.
My favorite coffee chains here are Black Bear, B&B Coffee Roasters, and Chaikof, but the latter holds the most meaning to me because I’m constantly running into and making new friends here. Although I discovered it relatively late in the game (I’m not sure how, since I walked past it all the time on my way to and from a restaurant I’ll talk about below!), it’s quickly become a favorite. They serve all different kinds of dishes, including pasta and smoked salmon crepes, which are the ways to my heart. I don’t come here for the atmosphere or anything because it’s always super crowded, and the floors are kinda slippery?? But I love that I can always find a familiar face here – or if not, become friends with people who will become familiar faces! One time the waiter got my order wrong, so I was agitated as I explained to him in Russian what I needed. The woman sitting next to me told me in English that she could help me, and, already annoyed, I responded coldly, “Я говорю по-русски.” You’d think that gaffe would turn her off to me, but instead, she liked my spunkiness and chatted me up afterward. We quickly became friends, and we already have plans again this week. Runs, dinners, and wine & whines are in the works. 😉
The restaurant I mentioned above that’s right next to Chaikof is called L’Olio. As you can guess, it’s an Italian restaurant. It’s not a restaurant to write home about, but I go there when I’m craving a slab of salmon or can’t be bothered to cook my own pasta. It’s also the only place I’ve found in Tashkent so far that sells pasta sauce, although at a premium price and only in small quantities. (It also unfortunately does not taste that great. Not savory enough, too tangy.) So why am I writing about it? Because the waiters are super friendly and eager to practice English and help me with Russian. So friendly that we now have a group chat on Telegram (the most popular messaging app here) called Спагетти Помодоро (Spaghetti Pomodoro – my order there almost every time), and I’ve hung out with one of them. Plans for all four of us to hang out are being formulated, but every time we try, someone is curled up with Tashkent Tummy (me) or hungover (any one of them).
Java Coffee Roasters
Ah, the most chou-chou of the chou-chous. I’m there literally every day, and the baristas (pictured above) are some of my favorite people in Uzbekistan. They don’t speak any English, but my Russian is finally at a level where I can both roast the shit out of A and cry to him when I’m having a bad day. S once posted the pic of us and the Christmas tree on her Instagram, saying that I’m always happy and that she adores those kinds of people. It meant a lot to me because Fulbright has been extremely difficult for me, and it’s like I’m almost never really happy here. But by nature, I am actually a happy person, and Java is the oasis that brings out the real me. I’m touched that S noticed. I could go on and on about Java and all the friends I’ve made here and all the funny moments experienced, but I’ll leave you with this: yesterday they trusted me with a knife to cut my apple, and as I wielded it for photos and pretended to cut people from afar, one of my friends muttered, “Can’t believe they let you have that.”
Yes, a grocery store chain is one of my chou-chous. The produce and snack sections are a bit lacking compared to the other chain, Korzinka, but I always associate Makro with calmness. I only ever go at night, and whenever I’ve had a bad day, I just put my phone on airplane mode, take a stroll to Makro, and buy myself food that’ll cheer me up. I’m not one to walk aimlessly, so one day when I wanted to experience freshly-falling snow in Tashkent, I walked to Makro. Snow always puts me in a good mood, so even now when the skies are clear, walking there reminds me of snow. A recent development: I keep getting the same cashier, so we now have conversations in Uzbek when we see each other. It’s probably the only time in Tashkent I ever use Uzbek, so that’s been nice. And why not befriend the person who rings up your broccoli heads and baby food packets??
I happened to go to three of those four places today, so it’s been a pretty good day in the end.