Central Asian Terminology

The cultures of Central Asia have many distinct traditions which may be unknown to western visitors, thus a little explanation in the way of terminology and local speech is needed. Below is a list of definitions we thought you may find helpful in navigating through the site. Keep in mind there may be many different spelling variations of each term, depending on culture and country.


Tapchan: A raised platform, usually similar in appearance to a large bed, on which meals are traditionally served in Central Asian countries. Guests are usually entertained on the tapchan, reclining and drinking tea while conversing with their host. When a meal is served, a "dastarkhan" (see below) is placed in the middle and the food laid out on top. After the meal, it is customary to relax or even sleep in the same spot, as the tapchan is outfitted with blankets and pillows for this purpose. It is worth noting that most business and negotiations in rural regions are still conducted in this manner. Removing one's shoes is an absolute requirement when on the tapchan, and likewise putting one's feet on the dastarkhan is taboo.

Dastarkhan: Similar to a tablecloth in the West, however it is placed at one's feet when sitting on the tapchan, and removed after the meal. As a sign of respect, remember not to touch it with your feet.

* Sometimes the word "dastarkhan" on a sign or building may mean "cafe".

Khona, Khana, Xona, or Xana: Simply means "room" or "hall" in Turkic languages. When in conjunction with another word, connotes a type of business or public place. These terms are useful to memorize as they are nearly universal throughout the 'Stans. Some examples:

    Chaikhana, chaikhona, or choykhana: Teahouse
    Oshkhana, Oshkhona: Restaurant or cafe
    Derikhana, dorikhona, darikhana: Pharmacy
Kumis (Koumis, Kymyz, Kumuz): beverage made from fermented mare's milk. Related to "airan", which is a similar drink from either cow or camel milk, though in some places kumis is actually called airan as well. Kumis is sour in taste and often fizzy, and may contain varying amounts of alcohol depending on method of production.

Shorpa (Shorbo, etc): a meat and vegetable soup, usually of mutton, common to all parts of central Asia. Usually it is very thin and contains potatoes, onions and garlic, to which are added large chunks of bread.

Shashlik: universal barbeque of central Asia, similar to a "shish-ka-bob" without vegetables. This is simply marinated chunks of meat (any kind) put on a skewer and roasted on a wood or charcoal fire. They are available everywhere and very popular in C.A.

Osh: a universal name for Plov; in Tajikistan osh is the word for "food".

Tandyr (tandir, tandoor): a large round brick and mortar oven with a large hole on top, used for baking bread and pastries. It is heated by building a large wood fire in the middle; after the fire dies down, balls of dough are covered in oil and stuck onto the sides of the tandir by hand (an expert cook does this very carefully!) and the hole is covered. A well-built tandir holds just the right amount of heat to cook the bread without scorching.

Kazan: a large, wok-shaped cauldron with a narrow bottom used to cook plov (osh) and similar dishes.


Caravanserai: a medieval type of rest stop or inn for caravans traveling along the Great Silk Road. Caravansarais were based at oases or important junctions and had facilities for re-supplying caravans with food and water and for care of animals.

C.B.T. - Community Based Tourism. Central Asian countries have developed networks of locally organized tour services, mainly consisting of home stays with local residents.

Akim, Hakim or Akimat: Is a name given to someone in a position of power, usually a governor, judge, or other high official. In Central Asia, usually a regional or city governor.

Mazar: Persian word for tomb, grave, or mausoleum

Aivan: a type of open-air veranda, usually with a high ceiling and highly decorated; this is where guests were entertained and meals eaten in traditional homes of Central Asia.

Madrassah: is the Arabic word for any type of school, college or university, whether secular or religious (of any religion). It is variously transliterated as madrasah, madarasaa, medresa, madrassa, madraza, madarsa, etc. In Central Asia, however, it almost universally denotes an Islamic connection, in comparison with the secular school systems introduced during Russian and Soviet rule. The ancient madrasahs of the region are known for their fantastic scale, architecture, and ornamentation.

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