Of the Central Asian dishes that bring me the most joy, Lagʻmon is in the top four, right up there with Plov, Manti, and Somsa. Lagʻmon really shows off Uzbek cuisine’s eastern influence with it’s hearty homemade noodles, and delightful little chunks of meat and fat. Served in a steaming bowl with a spoon and fork, this traditional comfort food really hits the spot no matter what the time of year, or temperature.
The origins of Lagʻmon likely have mongol roots, brought west with the invading hoard of Genghis Khan in the early 13th century. It bears a striking resemblance to the Mongolian classic noodle soup, Guriltai Shul. Today it’s widely accepted that the dish is of Uyghur origin, although there are variations in the preparation.
In Uzbekistan a common extra ingredient is chickpeas, although this isn’t a steadfast rule. The dish is also served in wet and dry varieties. It’s generally safe bet that when the menu specifies “Uyghur Style” the Lag’mon will be served on an ordinary plate, vs the soup style you’d otherwise get.
As a dish that claims to be “national food” for most Central Asian countries, and for the Uyghur people of Northwest China’s Xinjiang region, the common denominator is the Turkic linguistic root of the word “Lagʻmon” for the dish itself. The Chinese lamian noodle is also a strong candidate for the origin of the word, as noodles which are found in Lagʻmon are almost identical, and pure words of the Turkic linguistic family as a rule generally don’t begin with the letter “L”.
Noodles in good Uzbek Lagʻmon tend to be homemade and doughy, rather than uniform in shape. More flat than cylindrical, they remind me of a cross between späetzle and linguine. The strong gravy-like soup is packed with hearty stir-fried vegetables which leaves a generous sheen of oil on the surface of the broth. The meat can be either beef or lamb, with tender bits that are hard to avoid if you’re a vegetarian. The best part, other than noodles, are the delightful chunks of fat that melt in your mouth.
Eating Lagʻmon without making a mess takes skill, and more years of practice than I’ve lived in this part of the world. A bib would be nice, but better just plan not to wear a nice shirt. I’ve also never been scolded for picking up the bowl and drinking the broth, so either my hosts are always very gracious, or I’ve been offending everyone without realizing it. Good to the last drop, Lag’mon is always one of my favorite Central Asian meals, and noodles never disappoint.