Central Asian people are famous for lavish hospitality and an all-you-can eat attitude to home cooking. In the years since independence, regional cuisine — more meat than veg as a rule — has traveled beyond the region to satisfy the appetites of restaurant-goers in some of the world's richest metropoles. To Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Turkmen and Uzbeks living in locales like New York and London, these eateries are a home away from home.
Uzbeks in New York City
Nargis is a Uzbek-run restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, serving up plov, manti, samsa, lagman and other Central Asian dishes, providing a gateway to national cuisine and traditions.
Tomer B, an American diner praises Nargis on the crowd-sourcing platform Yelp.com:
This place has never let me down. The quality of the food and and the money you pay for it. There is no other place like this in New York. The owner Eli is always there taking care that service is good and people are happy.
Historically, the territory of modern-day Uzbekistan stood at the crossroads of the Great Silk Road, a well-worn web of trading routes that connected Europe and Asia before the economics of sea power and other factors caused the trade to slow to a trickle. In keeping with Central Asian tradition, the owner of Nargis waits for guests in front of his dwelling.
Also on Yelp.com, Michael D writes:
The Nargis Cafe is an Uzbek restaurant that does it right. The owner always greets me with a smile and is very warm.
A bowl of traditional Uzbek plov containing rice, thick carrot, onion, lamb, and different spices costs $ 8.50 at Nargis restaurant, somewhat more expensive than Central Asian prices, but still a cheap eat by New York standards.
On Nargis restaurant's Facebook page U.S.-based Central Asians show their enthusiasm:
Nargis has a rival in the form of another Brooklyn-based Central Asian restaurant, Chayhona Salom. The restaurant's owners, Murat Khojimatov and Farida Ganieva said “Tashkent [the capital of Uzbekistan] plov is world famous.”
Chayhona Salom's version of plov is differed from Nargis, it consists of larger hunks of lamb on a bed of rice with finely diced carrots, and is topped with a single, simple quail egg. The restaurant's “Tashkent Plov” is also 50 cents cheaper than at Nargis.
Chayhona Salom visiter Alexander S. noted [eng],
They serve delicious Uzbek food. We ordered Samsa and Shish kebabs and it reminded me of my childhood in Uzbekistan.
Kazakhs and Kyrgyz in London
As in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, New York's Uzbek restaurant serves as a collecting point for Uzbeks that have migrated from Uzbekistan — a piece of the motherland in a foreign land. There are around 20,000 Uzbeks living in the U.S., with most located in New York City, especially in Queens and Brooklyn. (The odd few end up in Arizona, too).
In Britain, however, Central Asian dining has a more nomadic flavour, thanks to The Kyrgyz-Kazakh Pasha House founded in 1999, the first of its kind in Europe.
One netizen commenting on Trip Advisor described Pasha House as “weird and tasty”:
The place has a slightly weird atmosphere with running children, a large group of diners singing and a couple whispering lovingly in the corner. The waiting staff were slightly overwhelming but lovely. The food was superb, absolutely first rate.
The restaurant is an obvious location for an authentic toi (a big collective celebration in Turkic languages) abroad. Pasha's family focus allows for an area where children can run, adults can sing, and everyone can feast on national food.
The pound's current strength against the dollar makes Pasha's plov, at 8 British pounds ($13.70) a lot more expensive-seeming than the New York version, but Trip Advisors note that by London standards, it is not a pricy evening out.
We liked it very much. There was a good menu to choose from. It was served very well and the service was good as was the price.
With Central Asian restaurants simultaneously offering citizens of their host countries unique fare at low prices, and the increasingly mobile people of the region a way to stay connected with their culture, the region's food and culture are sure to make a home for themselves in other major cities across the world, too.