Partying with Mr. Babahana

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

We have learned one simple rule: Don’t enter enormous cities after dark and search for lodging. But today’s traffic congestion means we don’t arrive in Tashkent until 8 p.m. We drive aimlessly for two hours before we locate a bed-and-breakfast—which is booked.

“What do we do now?” I ask my stumped, sleepy team members.

As we ponder our next move, a white sedan pulls up and disgorges several drunken dudes. We pantomime, explaining that we’re searching for a hotel.

“Hotel. Restaurant. Free. Come,” says a man with a healthy belly. He slurs that his name is Mr. Babahana, or something similar. In the spirit of adventure, and few other options, we follow, arriving at a place called Munisa Restaurant.

The Beatles’ “Yesterday” is playing on the speakers. A wedding is underway in the main dining room.

“No problem,” Mr. Babahana says, ushering us past the celebration and into a private room. It’s decorated with lace, linen, and sumptuous chairs. As soon as we’re seated, an army of waiters delivers a tray of sliced meats, cold pickled salads, and chilled vodka.

“I knew this would happen sooner or later,” Mims says.

Waiters fill our glasses with vodka. We make toasts. We drink. Repeat.

“Eat, eat,” Mr. Babahana says, gesturing toward the cold cuts. He identifies them by making animal noises:

“Moo.” He points toward a light brown slice.

“Neigh, neigh.” He gestures toward a dark brown slice.

He waves his arms like a bird to symbolize a light pink slice.

He sticks out his tongue to indicate a nearly white slice.

Then he throws one of each onto our plates, along with sprigs of dill and cilantro. It’s high-quality lunch meat, and the horse is particularly lean. Mims has seconds. The cold salads are superb, Chinese in execution. Spicy cucumbers are paired with thin beef shards, while sweet carrots are married to beef bits. Luscious lamb meatballs are submerged in a light, dill-flavored broth.

“To the best food we’ve had in Uzbekistan,” we say, making our fourth or maybe fifth toast.

Instead of bringing good cheer, the cold vodka is a point of no return. Our host grows drunker and uninterested. He tries sending us to a nearby hotel, but we don’t have enough local currency to pay for a room. Our host huffs, then brings us into a tiny private dining room with two couches, a table, and a fish tank.

“Sleep,” he says.

We curl up on the couches and drop into a drunken slumber, the wedding-goers’ raucous merriment lasting long after our dreams begin.

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