FOOD EXPEDITIONS: Forging Bonds of Community and Family with Tajikistan’s Oshi Palav.

In the Tajik culture, the people take pride in prioritizing making time for others. The people of Tajikistan believe that time should always be spent with those around you, especially now since the world is becoming more lonely. 

So it’s unsurprising that a cultural dish of the Tajik people brings people together. Although some dishes have held significance solely because of their connection with past events, some are also significant because they have forged bonds of community, and Oshi Palav is such a dish. 

In Tajikistan, there are many sayings associated with dishes such as “if you have eaten Oshi Palav with someone, you are required to respect them for 40 years” and “if there is no Osh, there is no friendship.” These sayings act as a testament to the depth of influence this dish has in connecting people.

Sharing Oshi Palav. (CREDIT: BBC)

This dish, commonly known as “King of Meals,” is not overly complicated to make. That’s likely why more than 200 different varieties exist that have developed since the dish’s inception more than 100 years ago. 

However, this traditional dish is commonly made with carrots, oil, onions, saffron, lemon, black pepper, chickpeas, cumin, meat, and rice. To make Oshi Palav, the process is simple as it only involves three stages. A cook will begin by frying all the main ingredients. Then the rice will be cooked and simmered for a specific period of time until it is deemed ready. After the rice is ready, the meal will be assembled with the rice acting as the bed upon which the other ingredients are placed. 

No matter where your travels take you in Tajikistan, when this dish is served, it signifies bringing people of different backgrounds together and solidifying bonds. Interestingly, Oshi Palav is a meal served during regular mealtimes and celebrations, rituals, and social gatherings. Its ability to be eaten in multiple settings is another reason it is held in high regard in Tajikistan.

Yet, the Oshi Palav dish from Tajikistan is a traditional meal that not only forges bonds of a community but brings families together, solves arguments, and secures friendships. As impressive as this is, there is more historically that this dish is believed to have done. According to some, the Oshi Palav played a minor role in helping to end Tajikistan’s civil war

During the 1990s, tensions were high in Tajikistan, with the civil war causing turmoil in the country. It took some time for the opposing sides to agree to put an end to the war that was destroying the country’s homeland and disrupting the people’s livelihoods. It’s believed that as a gesture of friendship and negotiation during talks with the warring political factions trying to bring peace to the country and an end to the civil war, a meal of Oshi Palav was shared. 

According to accounts, the factions resolved their differences while sharing a plate of warm Oshi Palav together, which allowed the 1997 peace agreement to be brokered. After the peace agreement was brokered, the talks became known as ‘Oshti-ye Milli,” which can be defined as national reconciliation.

Years later, because of the role the meal played in the war negotiations and because of its cultural importance to the people of Tajikistan, UNESCO added “Oshi Palav” to its list of intangible cultural heritage of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. This organization cited communal “osh-eating” gatherings as an entirely inclusive activity that successfully brings people from different backgrounds together. 

It’s evident that “Oshi Palav,” the “King of Meals,” continues to play an instrumental role in the lives of the people of Tajikistan. When next you want to forge a communal bond or initiate a new friendship, why not consider serving this meal and sharing its significance.

WORDS: Jason Collins.

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