When travelling to Uzbekistan, there is one thing you have to do in order to really experience authentic Uzbek culture- visit the chaikhanas. A chaikhana is the halal version of a western bar. Think of it as the local watering hole. The Cheers of Uzbekistan as it were. The name literally means “tea place” and it is where you go to catch up with friends, discuss the latest news and political events, and just relax for a couple hours.
You will notice after visiting Uzbekistan that they are integral to society and can be found everywhere. While each chaikhana you visit in Uzbekistan will be different, there are some elements that are the same from chaikhana to chaikhana.
When you sit down in an Uzbek chaikhana, you will be sitting on a raised eating platform called a tapchan. Think of it as a square bed frame with railings on three sides for you to lean your back against and pillows spread around that you can use for back support. Cushioned mats are arranged on the tapchan so you can sit more comfortably and in the center of everything is a table that is the perfect height to eat at if you are sitting at it cross-legged. They are quite comfortable and often covered. As you travel Uzbekistan, you will notice that tapchans are everywhere and are one of the most iconic items in Uzbekistan.
Many places you will visit in Uzbekistan will require you to take off your shoes (mosques, local homes, etc.). The same thing goes for any chaikhana you visit in Uzbekistan. Before you slide ontothe tapchan, remove your shoes and leave them on the floor by the open edge of the tapchan.
At a chaikhana, you drink tea. More specifically, green tea. Yes, you can get black tea also as you travel Uzbekistan, but green tea is the most common beverage served at chaikhanas. (Food is also available at chaikhanas and green tea is the beverage of choice to help aid in digestion.) Tea will be served in small bowls that fit comfortably in your hand, not mugs or cups of any kind. When the tea is first served, the contents of 3 bowls must first be poured back into the teapot and then guests will be served their first bowl to drink. You may notice that people pour only half-bowls of tea and do not fill the bowls to the brim. This gives you room to swish your tea around in the bowl to cool it off, allowing you to drink it more quickly.
MEN HERE, WOMEN HERE
If you are planning on travelling to Uzbekistan, you already know it is one of the more conservative Central Asian countries. One way you will see this manifest itself is that men and women do not typically go to chaikhanas together. Chaikhanas are mainly male-dominated. Does this mean that a group of men and women visiting Uzbekistan cannot sit together at a chaikhana? No. This will not be a problem or cause offense. People are used to seeing travelers all around the country and realize the cultural differences at play. Ladies, just be aware that all the tapchans around you may be filled only with men.
EXPERIENCE TO THE FULLEST
Uzbekistan contains gobs of interesting places, especially if you are a Silk Road history buff. You may find that you are on the go to see as many places as possible before you leave. However, if you find yourself in need of a breather, realize that of all the places to visit in Uzbekistan, chaikhanas may very well have the most relaxing atmosphere. People often sit and talk for hours just sipping on tea and munching on a tasty local dish. So take a load off. The owner is not going to rush you out; feel free to dally. Take in the sights and sounds around you, sip on some tea, and enjoy a leisurely afternoon. Then when you have regained your equilibrium, you can make your way out into the throngs again and discover everything Uzbekistan has to offer refreshed.
Photos from source: esosedi.org, vicariouseye.com, io.ua, h-c-r.org, intofe.ru