Central Asia. A region containing countries — such as Tajikistan — of which many have never heard, let alone sampled the cuisine found within. But adventurous diners, look no farther than New York: An eclectic, often eccentric assortment of food from Silk Road-situated countries such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan dot Brooklyn neighborhoods. The following is a breakdown of where to try everything from savory Samsas to the tasty Toki, an Uzbek dish of ground meat in grape leaves.
Neighborhood: Brighton Beach
With plump meat dumplings and $2 helpings of bread that cover half the table, you get your dough’s worth at this brightly lit joint, tucked into Brighton Beach’s most bustling street. Cafe Kashkar carries the cuisine of the Uyghur people, a Turkic ethnic group with large populations in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Here, their culture is spotlighted not just in the food, but in silky decor tacked to the walls.
Must try item: The piquant Langsai Salad composed of bean thread noodles, fresh veggies and a vinegar dressing.
KeBeer Draft Bar and Grill
Cuisine: Central Asian/Eastern European
The restaurant’s previous name, “Eastern Feast,” was probably a bettermatch. Due to the long Soviet occupation, Russian cuisine has infused Central Asia, and here Pelmeni fried dumplings, golden brown fixtures of lamb or beef are found on the same menu as decadent kebabs and vegetarian borscht. The place also doubles as a beer garden, full of assorted bottles on the wall and cheery locals.
Must try item: Khatchapuri, a Georgian bread that oozes cheese (above).
Neighborhood: Borough Park
Cuisine: Jewish Uzbek
With round white tables and shiny hardwood floors, this place — which sometimes shakes from the vibrations of the D train it sits under–could double as a dance hall. The $10 lunch special, which stretches from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., boasts enough for two people: two hearty shish kabobs or pilaf, a bowl of dumpling soup, and a vinaigrette saturated salad. To boot, it’s certified as Glatt Kosher, not surprising since Uzbekistan contains a large population of Bukharian jews.
Must try item: The pilaf, a national Uzbek dish of rice, comprised of browned onions, carrots and a variety of meat, and seasoned with cumin.
Neighborhood: Sheepshead Bay
Cuisine: Pan Central Asian
Highlighted on the street by a bright purple exterior, this neighborhood nook carries cuisine ranging from the Georgian Chebereki, deep-fried lamb dumplings, to Chalop, an Uzbek buttermilk soup. Several tasty deals abound: the $2 pumpkin and onion Samsas–another Uzbek staple and $3 home fries, more well cooked than typical crispy American ones.
Must-try item: The manti, steamed dumplings filled with beef, are an item found in several variations across Central Asia and Armenia.
This cozy hole in the wall is not renown for its ambiance, but receives props for specializing in ubiquitous Uzbek plov — a mixture of carrots, caraway seeds, and fresh chunks of meat. Reflecting the diversity of the region from where the food hails, other neighboring cultures infiltrate the menu — whether Armenian style cabbage or Okroshka, a cold Russian soup composed of raw vegetables, boiled potatoes, eggs and a meat staple.
Must-try item: For another taste of authenticity, you won’t find the the Lepeshka–a crisp Bukharian bread the size of a Frisbee–many other places.
Photo credit: Georgia About blog.