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Chaikhana Etiquette

Teahouse or chaikhana, a time- honoured place for men to gather on carpeted dais and swap the latest news over chai and Uzbek favourites like shashlik, plov and laghman. To drink chai in a chaikhana is to follow a long and venerable Central Asian tradition. Hot green tea (kok chai in Uzbek; zilyoniy chai in Russian) not only quenches thirst and cools the body, it also aids the digestion of greasy foods.

Aboard the wooden dais (chorpoy in Uzbek, tapchan in Russian), be conscious of the great respect shown towards the round non bread. Before a family departure, like a son leaving for military service, he bites a fresh non which is hung up to safeguard his return, when he can finish it with his friends. At a meal, break the bread into pieces and share them round the table but never place non face-down, i.e. keep the patterned, seeded side uppermost. Never leave non on the ground or throw it away in public. Anyone who finds a piece on the ground should pick it up, kiss it and touch it to their forehead three times.

To study that part of their lives which is before the public eye, we must first pay a visit to the tea-booths, which are the resorts of all classes. The Bokhariot, and the remark applies indeed universally to all Central Asiatics, can never pass by a second or third tea-booth without entering, unless his affairs are very urgent indeed.

Vambery, Arminius; Sketches of Central Asia, (1868)

Tea should be brewed by pouring it three times into the piala cup and three times back into the pot. When pouring for the fourth time, do not fill another's cup to the brim (this signifies that it is time for him to leave) but instead pour less, more often. The first piala-full is normally used to wash and sterilize the cup and should be passed and received with the right hand. To cool the tea, swirling is preferred to blowing. A green, powdered tobacco known as noz is also taken at teahouses, skilfully shovelled under the tongue, rendering attempts at even basic communication almost futile.

At the end of a meal, when passing a mausoleum/cemetery, or starting a journey, the fatiha-the Muslim gesture of holding out cupped palms to receive God's blessings, and then running hands over one's face-is generally performed as a sign of thanks and blessing.