Chust knife is a well-known word combination in Russia and abroad. It seems that there is no difference what knife one uses to chop carrots for pilaf, a national Uzbek knife or a Japanese ceramic kitchen knife. But it appears that a national Uzbek knife contains a spiritual component for connoisseurs of a national cuisine.
In Tashkent a compulsory gift purchasing programme includes buying a knife in sheathe and bringing it home. And do you know that a national Uzbek knife is considered a cold weapon? But in the beginning of the 70-s a number of Uzbek knives were identified as domestic utilities and souvenirs and were allowed for trade. What an elegant solution! Having been a souvenir according to its nomenclature article, it cut, chopped and sliced in the kitchens of Tashkent, was easily sharpened without any problems.
If you are going to buy a knife you shall go to Fergana Valley, a place of origin of famous Uzbek knives. You will be able not only to buy a perfect knife at a reasonable price, much cheaper than in Tashkent but also to have a pleasure of wandering about the knife market and getting acquainted with the masters of knife making.
We advise you to go to Shakhrikhan, a small town, where the Pichoq-bazaar is situated. There you can find knifes of various configuration, form, engraving, material and price. In the nearby villages work the whole dynasties of knife making masters whose craft has been transferred from generation to generation. All knives are hand-made, their price depends on its handle (the bone handle is the most expensive), on the way of tempering the blade and on the master’s name.
What sort of steel is it? It is the bearing and the spring steel. Yes, everything is simple at the first sight. But the knife has to be balanced, the blade shall be perfectly evened, its stiffening rib shall be forged and hardened so that the knife would not scatter, laid properly in a hand, became familiar from the first moment of working with it.
This is what craftsmanship means. A Fergana knife is like an animal; that is why a word “breed” is mentioned in this title. A purebred knife is made with a big love, its handle is engraved with magic signs, and it does not matter that an idle tourist would not pay any attention at a kez (magic circles) or a charmakha, a wavy line symbolising water, the beginning of everything. A knife for a master is like a child. Each one has tamga, a personal mark of a master, and it is not just a trademark, it means that the master is responsible for this knife; that he takes all responsibilities. It is a very subtle thing and it just needs to be understood. There is no sin worse than to imitate someone’s tamga, it will not bring any luck to a knife – to a knife and not to its owner. Have not you forgotten that a knife is a living creature?
After you buy a knife from a master he will not give it away immediately. He will wait if you ask any questions. May be you will ask how to keep it or how to sharpen it? Even if you know all about it and you are a knife expert. It is recommended to buy a knife not in the big touristic bazaars but in the region of its production where the seller can explain to you the peculiarities of each knife and you will get a brilliant pichoq – the one which will become an extension of your hand. Of course all this is important in case you are buying a pichoq for domestic use not just as a souvenir.
In Uzbekistan a pichoq does not mean just a knife. The pichoq of such kind is also a home amulet, a protection from illnesses and evil eye; it wards off misfortunes and evil spirits.
One of the most famous pichoqchi-masters, Usto (master) Eshon lives in Shakhrikhan. In fact his name is Rakhmathudza Alihudzaev but not many people know his real name. Everybody knows him as Usto Eshon.
A legendary pichokchi Eshon-aka lives in mahallya (a community quarter) named after his grandfather Ubaidullahudza and in the street named after his no less famous father, master Alihudzhi.
He makes exclusive knives of the highest quality and amazing beauty.
A pichoq of Eshon-aka is a piece of art and a severe weapon. Eshon-aka orders special sheathes from the best Shakhristan masters for his best knives. For instance, a wooden sheathe like this, decorated with sophisticated lacquer miniature.
Only connoisseurs can understand what means a knife made by a master. Ordinary people can do with any knives; though anyway each of them will have its own character; may be the one which suits you.
They say a real Uzbek knife understands his master from a half word. This is impossible to explain, one can just feel it.
Picture of Lilia Nickolenko. Many thanks for assistance in preparing of the material.
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