Always interesting (to me) are the cultural intersections of ancient tradition and modern religion. You never have to look far to find an intersection and then you are always rewarded with opportunities to open up fascinating discussions with your new friends.
For example: in Uzbekistan, even in Tashkent the Capital, one can see small bundles of tan-colored, dried herb, tied together and hung from the roof/sofit/ceiling area outside front doors of buildings. Even government buildings filled with scientists and politicians and what-have-you! These little bundles are hung to ward off "the evil eye" and other curse-like efforts of ill-wishers.
As far as I can determine, this has nothing to do with Islam; I haven't heard of any specific area in the scriptural writings that define that this particular plant should be gathered (when it's gone to seed, by the way - the bundles are always adorned with big tri-lobed seed pods filled with little brown seeds), and I may be wrong about that but I will clarify soon with some buddies here.
Also, I haven't identified the herb yet, but I will; I'm determined. It is an entrenched tradition - this herb is harvested at the same time of its life cycle, gathered into similarly-sized bundles, hung above the entryway of a building - I've seen it now in towns all over Uzbekistan, so I know it's not just a regional thing.
As for hot peppers, our proximity to China is named as the reason why spicy hot pepper taste has seeped into some of the foods of this part of Uzbekistan. It's not in everything, but they are there - and people like them! There is a delicious oil-based mixture, sort of like an Indian pickle (if you don't know, 'pickle' in India is a mixture of various things usually with a principle taste to each kind - there's a lime pickle, for example - but they are just ground-together mixtures, with oil, of various spices and seeds and herbs and so forth) - anyway, this Uzbek 'pickle' is chock full of peppers, but they're not exactly HOT - they're hot, but it's a strange hot. It's got all the amazing taste of peppers, chili peppers, SUPER HOT ones like the famous jabanero, but somehow they don't send you running for the water faucet. It's a great skill, I think, that successfully balances the taste of the peppers and the kick of the peppers. This is another interesting intersection of cultures, this time Chinese and Uzbek - because I am assured that traditional Uzbek meals are not spicy hot.
That's all for now! Love from Tashkent...
Sleepless in Tashkent