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Azerbaijani plov.JPG
Azerbaijani plov with qazmaq.
Alternative name(s) pilav, plov, pulao, polu, palaw, pilau
Type main
Region or state Central Asia, Middle East, South Asia, East Africa
Serving temperature hot
Main ingredient(s) Rice, spices, meat or fish, vegetables, dried fruits

Pilaf (also known as pilav, pilau, plov, pulao, polu and palaw) is a dish in which rice is cooked in a seasoned broth.[1] In some cases, the rice may also attain its brown color by being stirred with bits of cooked onion, as well as a large mix of spices. Depending on the local cuisine, it may also contain meat, fish, vegetables, and (dried) fruits.

Pilaf and similar dishes are common to Balkan, Middle Eastern, Caucasian, Central and South Asian, East African, Latin American, and Caribbean cuisines. It is a staple food and a national dish in Afghan, Uzbek, Swahili cuisine Kenya, Tajik, and Bukharan Jewish cuisines.


The English term pilaf is borrowed directly from the Turkish pilav, which in turn comes from Persian pilāw, from Hindi pulāv, Sanskrit pulāka, and ultimately is of probable Dravidian origin. [2] The English spelling is influenced by the Modern Greek pilafi, which comes from the Turkish word.[3] Due to the vast spread of the dish, there exist variations of the name in many languages, including polou, palov, pilau, polu, polaao (Bengali), pulao/pulav (Hindi-Urdu) etc.


One of the earliest literary references to pilaf can be found in the histories of Alexander the Great when describing Bactrian hospitality.[citation needed] Bactria was an eastern province in Greater Iran, probably the birthplace of Alexander's wife Roxana and geographically located in modern Ferghana valley. It was known to have been served to Alexander at a royal banquet following his capture of the Sogdian capital of Marakanda (modern Samarkand). It is believed that soldiers from Alexander's army brought the preparation of pilaf back to Macedonia, after which it spread throughout Greece.[citation needed]

Plov on Azerbaijani postage stamp

It is believed that the proper preparation of pilaf was first documented by a tenth-century Persian scholar named Abu Ali Ibn Sina (Avicenna), who in his books on medical sciences dedicated a whole section to preparing various meals, including several types of pilaf.[citation needed] In doing so, he described advantages and disadvantages of every item used for preparing the dish. Accordingly, Uzbeks and Tajiks consider Ibn Sina to be the "father" of modern pilaf.

Pilau became standard fare in the Middle East and Transcaucasia over the years with variations and innovations by the Persians, Arabs, Turks, and Armenians. It was introduced to Israel by Bukharan and Persian Jews.

During the period of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian versions of the dish spread throughout all Soviet republics, becoming a part of the common Soviet cuisine.


Public plov cooking in Tashkent

Persian culinary terms referring to rice preparation are numerous and have found their way into the neighbouring languages: polow (rice cooked in broth while the grains remain separate, straining the half cooked rice before adding the broth and then "brewing"), chelow (white rice with separate grains), kateh (sticky rice), biryani, and tajine (slow cooked rice, vegetables, and meat cooked in a specially designed dish also called a tajine). There are also varieties of different rice dishes with vegetables and herbs which are very popular among Persians.

There are four primary methods of cooking rice in Iran:

  • Chelow: rice that is carefully prepared through soaking and parboiling, at which point the water is drained and the rice is steamed. This method results in an exceptionally fluffy rice with the grains separated and not sticky; it also results in a golden rice crust at the bottom of the pot called tahdig (literally "bottom of the pot").
  • Polow: rice that is cooked exactly the same as chelow, with the exception that after draining the rice, other ingredients are layered with the rice, and they are then steamed together.
  • Kateh: rice that is boiled until the water is absorbed. This is the traditional dish of Northern Iran.
  • Damy: cooked almost the same as kateh, except that the heat is reduced just before boiling and a towel is placed between the lid and the pot to prevent steam from escaping. Damy literally means "simmered".

In Persian cuisine, Rahkshi (also known as yahni), a soup or stock, is often served over pilaf (pulao).

In Pashtun, Afghan and Tajik cuisines, Kabuli Palaw is made by cooking basmati in a broth-like sauce. This dish may be made with lamb, chicken, or beef. Kabuli Palaw is baked in the oven and topped with fried sliced carrots and raisins. Chopped nuts like pistachios, walnuts, or almonds may be added as well. The meat is covered by the rice or buried in the middle of the dish.

Uzbek plov being prepared in a kazan in a Tashkent home

Uzbek plov differs from other preparations in that rice is not steamed, but instead simmered in a rich stew of meat and vegetables called zirvak, until all the liquid is absorbed into the rice. A limited degree of steaming is commonly achieved by covering the pot. The cooking tradition includes many regional and occasional variations.[4] Commonly, it is prepared with lamb and mutton, browned in lamb fat or oil, and then stewed with fried onions, garlic and carrots. Chicken plov is rare but found in traditional recipes originating in Bukhara. Plov is usually spiced with whole black cumin, coriander, barberries, red pepper, marigold, and pepper. Heads of garlic and garbanzo beans are buried into the rice during cooking. Sweet variations, with dried apricots, cranberries and raisins are prepared on special occasions.

The uzbek-style plov cooking recipes are spread nowadays throughout all post-Soviet countries.

In South Asia, pulao (sometimes spelt pulav) is a dish consisting of rice and commonly including peas, potatoes, french beans, carrots, mutton, beef, or chicken. It is usually served on special occasions and weddings and is very high in food energy and fat. Meat pulao is a Pakistani and North Indian tradition, especially among the Muslim population. Biryani is another rice dish similar to pilaf, introduced to South Asian cuisine during the Mughal period. It is made from basmati or similar aromatic rice.

In Greek cuisine, piláfi (πιλάφι) is the fluffy and soft, but neither soupy nor sticky, rice that has been boiled in a meat stock or bouillon broth. In Northern Greece, it is considered poor form to prepare piláfi on a stovetop; the pot is properly placed in the oven. Gamopílafo ("wedding pilaf") is the prized pilaf served traditionally at weddings and major celebrations in Crete: rice is boiled in lamb or beef broth, then finished with lemon juice. Gamopílafo though it bears the name is not a pilaf but rather a kind of risotto, with creamy and not fluffy texture.

In Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago, pelau includes pigeon peas, either beef or chicken,[5] and occasionally pumpkin and pieces of cured pig tail.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rice Pilaf". Accessed May 2010.
  2. ^ pilau: definition of pilau in Oxford dictionary (British & World English) (US)
  3. ^ Harper, Douglas. "Online Etymology Dictionary". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 5 June 2012. 
  4. ^ "Uzbek Cuisine Photos: Pilaf". Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  5. ^ Pelau recipes CaribSeek

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