Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Palov with lamb and assorted vegetables © Lisovskaya Natalia/Shutterstock.com

Ritual Culture and Palov Ceremony

Palov, a tasty rice dish that incorporates meat, onions, carrots, herbs, and spices, comes standard on Uzbek menus. Prepared throughout Uzbekistan as an everyday meal, palov also has an important presence during festive events and rituals.

Folk customs and ceremonies associated with palov help form the foundation of the Uzbek concept of hospitality. In general, ceremonial meals have great emotional effects on people, giving them a sense of national identity and adherence to traditional values. In this sense, palov traditions can be considered a regulatory component of social relations in local communities, a special mode of social interaction between people, and a form of self-affirmation of the family and individuals.

Palov ceremonies exist for special life events. For example, there is, to name a few,

  • aqiqa oshi for childbirth,
  • sunnat tuy oshi for rites associated with the circumcision of boys,
  • fotiha tuyi oshi for matchmaking,
  • qiz oshi for sending a bride off to the groom’s house,
  • nikoh oshi for a man’s marriage,
  • hotin oshi for a woman’s marriage,
  • tuy oshi for a wedding, and
  • yil oshi for the anniversary of a death.

Public palov rituals are usually organized in families, husars (township or urban neighborhoods), and chaykhona (traditional tea houses). These events bring together people of different social statuses, and the aksakal (elders) of the makhallas (local village councils) take on a leading role.

Palov transmission, bearer and apprentice © Yoqut Erkabaeva

Palov ceremonies carry an important spiritual and moral component associated with charity, reflecting the social interaction and close social ties characteristic of the national identity. This aspect is visible in palov ceremonies such as nakhor oshi (morning palov), which are held in the mornings of weddings, births, and memorial services. Nakhor oshi involves a large number of people (in some cases, as many as one thousand people), which requires preparing a large number of products and is associated with the custom of collectively preparing on the eve of such an event.

Palov is rooted in antiquity, emerging during the active trade and cultural exchanges on the Silk Road, which also contributed to the emergence of caravanserais where travelers and traders were fed and provided a greater range of food products, including rice. With the principles of settlement strengthening in what is now called Uzbekistan and with it the growth of agriculture, palov continued to develop in a physical sense in terms of the ingredients. But what is more interesting is the metamorphosis that palov created at a social level. Along with the increasing availability of food, palov ceased being a food of the aristocracy, becoming a public property. By this time, the basic techniques of cooking palov had been established as had the formation of moral, spiritual, cultural, and social norms associated with it, including the charitable tradition of the collective palov meal, which has continued to be practiced up to the present day. Young people learn the skills of cooking palov and related traditions in the families.

Palov as a concept in the lives of people is much more than the name of the popular dish. It is a sociocultural phenomenon that promotes mutual understanding in the family and society. In addition, the collective interaction begins with the joint preparation of palov.

How to make the greatest Uzbek palov