Thursday, November 23, 2017

Laughing Dove - Uzbekistan

I've seen laughing doves (Spilopelia senegalensis) once before, in Jaffa, Israel. They were likely of the subspecies cambayensis, one of eight subspecies that have small plumage and size differences. I recently saw laughing doves again in Uzbekistan. These were of the subspecies ermanni, found in Afghanistan and Turkestan, which is a term that describes the area where the Turkish people live and includes Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, the southern portions of Kazakhstan and western China. 
This photo, taken in the shade, highlights the many different colors, particularly the transition of the lilac head to the pinkish belly, then shading to buff. 
The laughing dove has a lilac tinged head and neck, not apparent in the laughing doves we saw in Israel, but very apparent on the ones we saw in Uzbekistan. 
Lilac head and neck are very visible.
It is pinkish brown on the underside shading to buff. The upper parts are brownish and there is a blue/gray band along the bottom of the wing. The tail is graduated and the outer feathers are tipped in white. Split feathers on the side of the neck create a checkered rufus and gray patch (less apparent on these birds than on birds in pictures I've seen). 
Blue/gray tinge on bottom of wing, white patch on end of tail feathers and checkered neck are visible. 
The name relates to the laughing character of its call. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Eurasian Collared Dove - Uzbekistan

I've posted previously on the Eurasian collared dove that I've seen in southern Arizona and Mexico and I also did a post on 12 of the Eurasian collared doves that were shot in Arizona and that I plucked and cooked. This post is on the doves we saw recently in Uzbekistan. 
It is gray/buff to pinkish gray and has a blue/gray patch under the wing. The tail feathers are gray/buff above and dark gray tipped white below. It has a black half-collar on the nape edged in white. It has red legs and a black bill. The iris is red, but looks black at a distance. The eye is surrounded by an area of bare skin that looks white, or yellow in a different subspecies. 
They were introduced into North America in the 1980s and is now found in almost every U.S. state. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Russian Black-Billed Magpie

The Russian black-billed magpie (pica pica bactriana) is one of ten subspecies of the Eurasian magpie. It is found in Siberia east to Lake Baikal, then south to the Caucasus, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Central Asia. We saw them several times in Central Asia and photographed them in Uzbekistan. 
This is a distribution of the subspecies of the Eurasian magpie. The Russian black-tailed subspecies or bactriana is in yellow. Map from Wikipedia. 
Note the green on the wings and tail, as well as a purplish blue on the wings. 
It has black: (a) legs and bill; (b) glossy head, neck and breast with metallic green and violet sheen; (c) glossed wings with green or purple; and (d) glossed tail with green and reddish purple. It has white: (a) belly and shoulder feathers; and (b) primary feathers. This subspecies is distinguished by more white on the primary feathers and a prominent white rump.   
Vivid color on the wings and tail: a metallic blue or aqua and green on the tail. 
White primaries (wings) visible with the wing open. 
It is one of the most intelligent birds and one of the most intelligent of non-human animals. 
A blurry view, but my only one that is a side shot. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Common Myna

In Uzbekistan we saw lots of common myna birds. 
Common myna birds in Uzbekistan.
The common myna (or mynah), also known as the Indian myna, has: (a) a brown body: (b) a black hooded head; (c) yellow legs, bill and bare patch behind the eye; (d) white patch on the outer primaries (wings); and (e) the wing lining on the underside is white. 

It is native to Asia, including Uzbekistan and China, where we saw them, and has also been introduced into many other parts of the world, such as Hawaii, where I first encountered them. It is considered one of the world's worst invasive species. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Bar BQ - Samarkand, Uzbekistan

We were getting really tired of our tour group buffets. Long affairs with mass produced and relatively mediocre food. So we made an effort when we could to skip the tour dinner and go out on our own. One of our really outstanding guides on the trip, Julia, an Uzbeki, recommended a restaurant for us in Samarkand. Six of us decided to go and Julia called two cabs and gave the drivers directions and called the restaurant to let them know we were coming. It was a good thing because English is not widely spoken in Uzbekistan and her paving the way made things much easier.

Bar BQ is one of three restaurants in the same building (Suzane serving Uzbeki food and Zlata Praha serving European style food being the other two) under the umbrella of Zlata Praha. We pulled up to the restaurant in two cabs, walked in and no one could speak English. With hand gestures and lots of ineffectual talking we maneuvered ourselves to a large table and had a seat. The waiter found one English menu, which had quite a few entrees and had to be shared by six of us. It was nice to be seated by friends and to pick what we wanted instead of having the mass-produced meal of the day placed before us. 
The gem was a meat plate which was for 3 or 4 people ordered by Judy and Susan. It worked out to be about $15.00 USD. It had a smorgasbord of very nice and nicely cooked lamb chops, delicious minced lamb or beef kabobs, vegetable skewers, including onion, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and peppers, some other meats I didn't try, but believe included bacon wrapped chicken, along with some crepes and different dipping sauces. 

This plate was so long that it was hard to fit in one shot.
I ordered various lamb dishes (lamb neck and large lamb chops) and was told they were out of lamb. To my consternation, the meat dish had lots of lamb and I couldn't figure out why the restaurant had told me they were out of lamb. I figured they must have been out of lamb I was specifically asking for, which was lamb neck and larger lamb chops. Fortunately Susan and Judy shared the lamb chops with me. These lamb chops were nice and meaty. Some of the lamb we had, particularly in China, was all bones, as if from an anorexic lamb on a hunger strike. So I particularly relished this lamb. 

I ultimately ordered a beef ribeye and it was okay. A little tough and rather small. I also ordered some grilled vegetables which included a slice of egg plant, zucchini, a red pepper, a spicier green pepper and a tomato. Nothing special or unusual about the grilled vegetables, but they are always a nice addition. 
John ordered a beef filet which cost about $5.00. It was very tender. He shared a bite with me and it was good, but the lamb was so good that I wished for more. 
Filet mignon
Terry and Geneil ordered some spaghetti and some other vegetarian dishes that I did not photograph. 
It was a lovely meal with friends in a nice, relaxed setting. We'd all grown so tired of the buffets and mass-produced set menus with our 90 person tour that this was particularly welcome and appreciated. 

The final bill came to about $40.00 USD - for six people. Not bad at all. The taxi ride each way was about $.95. We paid for the meal in 5000 Uzbeki Som (Sum) bills, the standard bills given at ATMs. It took 62 of them. The Uzbekistan banking system is a mess and they don't take credit cards. The currency was devalued by about 40% right before we got there, resulting in the incredible values we were getting. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Seki Restaurant - Baku, Azerbaijan

Our first evening in Baku our guide, Salchin, took us to Seki Restaurant. I'd told him before-hand we wanted to avoid tourist traps and have authentic Azeri food. Salchin picked us up at our hotel and drove us across town through incredible traffic. At one particular spot we had to go through an intersection with four lanes of traffic going cross ways to us. Salchin just nosed his vehicle in, cutting off other cars, and made his way across in just a minute or two. I've never seen anything like it. Traffic was a virtual standstill and he got us across. We were dumbfounded as we watched it unfold. 

I'm not sure that Seki was not a tourist spot, but the food was great. The restaurant was housed in a three story building with a huge atrium in the middle. We were on the ground floor and there were patrons on the other two floors above us. A local band was playing near us, with unusual instruments, and they kept us entertained most of the meal. One of the men with an accordion appeared drunk and went off on solo tangents that were incredible. 
The band is against the wall to the left. The second floor is visible toward the top. 
By far the highlight of the meal was piti, an Azeri soup that includes the tail of a fat-tailed sheep. 
Fat-tailed sheep are about 25% of the world's sheep population. Most are found in Central Asia, the Middle East and Northern Africa. There are two types. The majority have broad fat-tails where the fat accumulates in baggy deposits in the hind part of the sheep, on both sides of the tail and on the first 3 to 5 vertebrae of the tail. Long-tailed sheep have the fat accumulate on the tail and it can get so long that it drags on the ground. 
Fat-tailed sheep. Note the bulbous, fatty rear ends. From Wikipedia.
Piti is eaten in two steps. First, Azeri flatbread is crumpled up, mixed with spices and added to a thick lamb broth. Second, a fat-tailed sheep tail, both fat and meat, is mixed with the lamb broth and vegetables (in our case, peas, chestnuts and saffron), mixed with more crumpled Azeri flatbread, then mixed together with a pestle to break down the fat and meat. Then it is eaten. In my case, for the first step, he had them give me some lamb broth with some lamb fat and it was quite good. 
Lamb broth with sheep fat (blurry).
The second step was an interesting concoction that was fairly dry, and well mixed together. It was almost like very light turkey stuffing on Thanksgiving. I would rather of had the meat and fat in the broth without the bread and vegetables, but it was interesting and okay. 
Mixture of lamb meat, fat, flat bread, vegetables and broth, mashed together with a pestle. 
We had some other very good food. We had eggplant rolls filled with a mixture that I think may have included walnuts, garlic and herbs, like this recipe. Fantastic flavor, mouth feel and I believe completely vegetarian. 
Eggplant rolls with walnut filling.
We got what looked and tasted a lot like Mexican salsa and had a great taste with a pretty good kick. I'm not sure what all of the ingredients were, but it had hot chiles, tomatoes, onions, perhaps some eggplant. Also extremely good. It went real well with the Azeri flatbread.
Tomato salad, like a Mexican salsa.
We got two types of cheese. One tasted a lot like Boursin, kind of smooth with lots of flavor. It was great on bread. The other was very bland, almost like tasteless sour cream. It was left mostly alone by our group of five. 
Two types of cheese. 
We had some kabobs, or skewers, brought to the table with a heating element and a fire to keep them warm. One was lamb, another was chicken and another was veggies, including tomatoes and peppers. Excellent.
Skewers of lamb, chicken and veggies.
We had a plate with two types of rice. One had some saffron in it. They were okay.
We got some baklava. It was very different from any baklava I've head before. It had little crunchies all throughout it, like little merangue balls, but a little harder and kind of irritating. Way too much of a weird crunch for my taste. It also had lots and lots of sweet sauce on it. It wasn't pure honey. I think I liked it better than anyone else at our table, other than Salchin, but a little bit was plenty.
Salchin introduced John and Susan to Azeri style tea. You squeeze in lemon, then put a chunk of colored sugar cube in your mouth, then drink the tea. John said it was way too sweet, he didn't like it. 
Teapot, lemon and colored sugar cubes.
Virtually everything we had was excellent, except the baklava, and it was interesting. I highly recommend Seki.  
Plate of food, including piti to bottom right.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Tajik Non Bread

When we pulled into the train station in Khujand, Tajikistan we were met by a band with men in long black robes and gold trim playing very long horns and other odd musical instruments. But even more striking were three young girls dressed in colorful garb, each carrying a pyramid of stacked bread. 

Judy posed with one of the girls for a picture and I was then offered one of the loaves of bread from the top of the pyramid. It was round with a rounded, bulbous and serrated rim and a depression in the middle swimming in honey. Most everyone else evaded the girls and their bread and I had a hard time finding any takers of pieces of bread that I tore off the loaf. The bread was rather stiff, not something I would seek out, and the honey helped. But there was so much honey that it was dribbling all over the place. I ended up finding a trash can to deposit most of it and had to use several wet wipes to get the honey off my hands. 

The first stop of our tour of Khujand was a Museum of Archaeology. After I got bored of the tour which took way too long, I went outside and wandered around. As I passed a restaurant I noticed a cart with bicycle-type wheels carrying about 20 round loaves of bread like what we'd seen the girls carrying earlier that morning. Then a man came out, pulled six of the rounded loaves from the cart and took them inside. 

Later that morning we visited the Payshandba Bazaar, the largest bazaar in Tajikistan. There again we found more of the rounded loaves of bread resting on the two-wheeled carts. The prevalence of the bread was striking. 
Tajikistan is known for its yogurt non or naan bread. It is a blend of basic wheat, all purpose flour and yogurt. This link gives a recipe, then shows the intricate process of women creating designs in the rounded loaves, then pasting the dough against the inside of a large kiln to cook them. 

I didn't really like any of the bread we had in Central Asia until we got to Azerbaijan. There it got more moist and flavorful. But it was fun to see and try it.