’s try Uzbek tonight” my dining companion suggested. “Sure, what time is the flight?”
It turns out that a half-hour drive to Middle Village, Queens would suffice to transport the two of us into a thoroughly Uzbek experience. The city of Samarkand, a stop for spice traders along the Silk Road and now a part of Uzbekistan, was also on Woodhaven Boulevard.
It was a stormy night and I called ahead to reserve a table. The hostess, Lena, sounded doubtful but promised to call back at 7 p.m., an hour ahead of our desired reservation. “You aren’t already eating somewhere?” she asked when she called back, and sounded quite happy when I said we were not.
Lena greeted us warmly when we arrived and there was no wait for a table. The menu, in Cyrillic for Uzbek as well as English, didn’t go into much detail so we asked Lena and our server for recommendations. Servers clad in the traditional and very colorful kuilak (a long tunic) and lozim (the accompanying pants) attire were attending to diners and Uzbek music played quietly in the background.
First, we had to select our bread, lepyoshka, a traditional Uzbek bread, or noni toki, a thin matzoh-like affair. Choose the lepyoshka, we were told. It’s much better. And indeed it was excellent, served with a spicy tomato dipping sauce but fine dunked into soup or just on its own. You want the samsa, our server told us. Soon enough, the samsa, a baked pastry-like layered dumpling with minced meat and wonderful spices, arrived.
What next? Uzbek manti. An Uzbek twist on Chinese manti, these delicate thin-doughed dumplings with minced meat, onion, and spices were exquisite. Osh-potsche, a “veal feet soup” with chickpeas and onions, was warm and filling. Should we try a kebab?