And in This Corner – Samarkand Bazaar!

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I’ve been offering ethnojunkets in Brooklyn’s Little Odessa for over 10 years and I’ve witnessed some stellar Eastern European and Russian food markets fail, only to be replaced by even brighter stars. The prepared food buffet is the feature attraction at these locations.

They come and they go. Some are eclipsed by the competition, some just self-combust for no apparent reason, some are even decimated by natural disasters. (Anyone else remember the beloved M&I International Foods that succumbed to Hurricane Sandy back in 2012? We can be BFFs.) Exquisite Foodland caught COVID and closed for a couple of years, but it has reemerged seemingly unscathed. Gourmanoff regrouped into yet another NetCost Market, its parent company.

And not long ago, in the shadow of the spectacular Tashkent Market opening across the street from it, Brighton Bazaar gamely attempted to hang on but was ultimately extinguished by its rival. When their gates came down for the last time, I wondered what business(es) would occupy those digs.

Enter Samarkand Bazaar. It positioned itself head to head against its neighbor, Tashkent Market. The battle will be noteworthy in that they are cut from the same piece of cloth, at least superficially. They both stock comparable regional baked goods, produce, refrigerated and frozen food, cakes and desserts, smoked fish, and boxed, jarred, and canned food. Not to mention the fact that they are less than 300 feet from each other.

But, of course, the real reason to visit either one is the overwhelming selection of prepared food. They present many of the same dishes; Samarkand has a few I haven’t seen in Tashkent, although Tashkent has many not to be found in Samarkand. I’ve tasted well over a dozen of Samarkand’s offerings; Tashkent has a slight edge IMHO but I’m willing to wait until Samarkand gets it sea legs.

Slides of just a few of their goodies:

Want to know what these yummy dishes are? Want to try ’em? You know what to do. Join me on my “Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa” ethnojunket! Check it out here!

Little Odessa Ethnojunkets Are Back!

Good news! COVID hospitalizations are waning and seasonal temperatures are waxing and that means it’s time to bring back ethnojunkets!

We’re getting the ball rolling with Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa and I’ll be adding the rest soon.

Ethnojunkets FAQ:

Q: What’s an ethnojunket anyway?
A: An ethnojunket is a food-focused walking tour through one of New York City’s many ethnic enclaves; my mission is to introduce you to some delicious, accessible, international treats that you’ve never tasted but soon will never be able to live without.

Q: Which neighborhoods do you cover?
A: My most popular tours are described on the ethnojunkets page but there are always new ones in the works. For the time being, I’m only scheduling Little Odessa.

Q: When is your next ethnojunket to [fill in the blank: Little Odessa, Flushing, Elmhurst, Little Levant, etc.]?
A: Any day you’d like to go! Simply send me a note in the “Leave a Reply” section below or write to me directly at rich[at]ethnojunkie[dot]com and tell me when you’d like to experience a food adventure and which ethnojunket you’re interested in – I’ll bet we can find a mutually convenient day! (Pro Tip: Check the weather in advance for the day you’re interested in to facilitate making your choice; we spend a lot of time outdoors!)

Q: I’ve seen some tours that are scheduled in advance for particular dates. Do you do that?
A: Yes, in a way. When someone books a tour (unless it’s a private tour) it’s always fun to add a few more adventurous eaters to the group – not to mention the fact that we get the opportunity to taste more dishes when we have more people (although I do like to keep the group size small). You can see if there are any openings available in the “Now Boarding” section of the ethnojunkets page. Subscribers always get email notifications about these.

Q: What will we be eating in Little Odessa?
A: Here are just a few of the Eastern European, Central Asian, Russian, and Former Soviet Union delicacies we usually enjoy on our food tour along Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn. (Not that I’m trying to tempt you to sign up! 😉)

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The overarching term is khachapuri, literally “cheese bread”; they’re commonly filled with tangy, salty sulguni cheese and imeruli, a fresh crumbly cheese which when melted together combine to make stretchy, cheesy nirvana. Georgian adjaruli is shaped like a kayak, the center of which is filled with cheese; a raw egg and a chunk of butter are added just as it’s removed from the oven. Stir the mixture: the egg cooks and combines with the butter and melted cheese. Break off pieces of the bread and dip them into the cheese mixture. What’s not to like?

Uzbek manti, Russian pelmeni, and Azerbaijani kutaby in the back. Azerbaijani food is similar to the cuisine of Georgia but they lay claim to certain dishes such as kutaby as their own. A thin, tortilla-like crepe filled with ground lamb and luscious seasonings, folded in half and griddled, it’s an object of universal culinary lust for anyone whose lips have ever caressed it.

Curd Snacks are not unlike a cross between an Eskimo pie and chocolate covered cheesecake; individually wrapped, they come in an assortment of flavors from chocolate and vanilla to the more esoteric blueberry, blackberry, and raisin.

Salads: At the top there’s fried lagman, a savory noodle dish (also found in soup) of the Uyghur people, an ethnic group living in East and Central Asia. Moving clockwise there’s khe, raw fish marinated in onion, spicy red pepper and vinegar. Russia and North Korea share an 11 mile border; the Korean culinary character of khe is obvious. Finally, there’s norin (aka naryn). Very fine noodles and a generous measure of cumin accompany thinly sliced beef. So good!

I hope you’ll sign up and join us! The cost is $85 per person (cash only, please) and includes a veritable cornucopia of food so bring your appetite: you won’t leave hungry, and you will leave happy!

For more information and to sign up, send me a note in the “Leave a Reply” section at the bottom of this page or write to me directly at rich[at]ethnojunkie[dot]com and I’ll email you with details.

I’m looking forward to introducing you to one of my favorite neighborhoods!

Dolma House Restaurant

Instagram Post 5/27/2019

The Southern Caucasus lies between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and comprises Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The three states have diverse cultures and cuisines and happily we are privileged to partake in all of them right here in New York City.

The word dolma and its many linguistic cognates refers to any of a vast number of stuffed vegetable dishes prepared across the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, Central and Western Asia, the Middle East, and our current focus, the Southern Caucasus, specifically Azerbaijan. The eponymous Dolma House is located at 311 Avenue X in Gravesend, Brooklyn.

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A mix and match lunch special featured one such dish, Kalam Dolma, (cabbage stuffed with lamb), plus Harcho (spicy lamb soup), and Lobio Salad (red kidney beans with chopped walnuts), all of which were good for sure (lunch specials anywhere being what they are) but I urge you, as I always do, to forego the prosaic in favor of the distinctive.

Turshi Plov – rice topped with lamb and dried fruits. Plov is another of those words with cognates that spread across half the planet: pilaf, pulau, etc. The topping, in this case, featured preserved chestnuts, apricots, plums, and raisins along with unctuous, tender lamb. But the rice was the star: cooked with lamb fat that was so delicious we sopped up the residue with our lepeshka, bread fresh from the tandir.

Chigirtma – chicken, eggs, and tomatoes cooked together with onions and served up in a cast iron pan. For starters, just the union of eggs and onions is pretty magical; eggs and tomatoes are besties as well. Combine the three and you’ve got a ménage that guarantees a happy ending. (I have it on good authority that the word chigirtma means “screaming”. Just sayin’.) The chicken, taken alone, is a little dry but this is one of those dishes where you need to get a bit of everything in each mouthful to reveal its awesomeness. Good stuff.

Ethnojunket: Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa

An ethnojunket is a food-focused walking tour through one of New York City’s many ethnic enclaves; my mission is to introduce you to some delicious, accessible, international treats (hence, “ethno-”) that you’ve never tasted but soon will never be able to live without (hence, “-junkie”).

Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa
On this ethnojunket, we’ll sample the delights of Eastern European, Central Asian, and Russian cuisine along Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn. We’ll share Georgian cheese bread as well as Turkish and Russian sweets and treats along with amazing dumplings, savory meat pies, authentic ethnic dishes, and so much more.

Some photos from past visits:
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The cost of any tour is $85 per person (cash only, please) and includes a veritable cornucopia of food so bring your appetite: you won’t leave hungry, and you will leave happy!

Tours usually begin at 1pm and typically run about 3 to 4 hours (depending upon the neighborhood).

Sign up!
Simply send me a note below and tell me when you’d like to experience a food adventure and which ethnojunket you’re interested in – I’ll bet we can find a mutually convenient day! I’ll email you with details.

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Please note: While I generally have a pretty good idea of what ingredients go into whatever we’re consuming, I can’t vouch for salt or sugar or gluten or so many other clandestine buzz killers. If you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies, please be mindful of that and take responsibility for them just as you would if you were dining under any other circumstances. (I’m a foodie, not a doctor!) By the same token, if something troublesome happens to you along the way, I can’t take the liability for that any more than if you were just walking along the street or in a shop by yourself. (I’m a writer, not a lawyer!) In other words, when you join one of my ethnojunkets, you are taking complete responsibility for your own welfare and safety.

What I can do is bring you a few hours of entertaining, educational, and delicious fun!

Questions? Feel free to write to me directly at rich[at]ethnojunkie[dot]com.

Azerbaijan House

Instagram Post 12/2/2017

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We were in the neighborhood, so we stopped by Azerbaijan House, 2612 East 14th St, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn to check out what Mina had cooking. The three of us were in search of a delicious, light lunch and having been there before, we knew exactly what to expect and weren’t disappointed.
Tashkent Salad – boiled beef tongue with daikon and red radish.
Kutab (aka Qutablar) – I never pass up the chance to order this griddled treat; similar to a crepe, it’s filled with meat, folded in half, dressed with pomegranate, and always tasty.
Düşbərə – The menu describes them as homemade ravioli, but you might know them as the mini version of manti, delicious little dumplings served here in soup.
Stuffed Cabbage
Kükü – a thick pancake made with potato, onion, egg, greens and nuts; real homespun flavor!

Village Cafe

My Instagram posts are usually brief takes on restaurants accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But folks sometimes ask for fuller reviews and more photos, so in response, here’s a more comprehensive report on one of my favorites.

One of my favorite ways to dine is with a large group of foodie-type folks. There’s a method to my menu madness, of course: if you gather a crowd of eight or ten around a mountain of ethnic food, everyone gets to taste a bit of everything. (That’s essentially the idea behind my ethnojunkets as well.)

And that’s what we did at Village Café (aka Five Star Village Café, and possibly aka Café Village), one of my very favorite places to bring a hungry throng. First, because the food is excellent (follow my recommendations below for the very best), second, because the staff is delightful, and third because I get to have the exquisite pleasure of introducing folks to Azerbaijani cuisine, something that’s unfamiliar to many people. Azerbaijani food is similar to the cuisine of Georgia (FSU Georgia, that is) but they lay claim to certain dishes such as kutaby as their own. You’ll recognize some items like shish kabob, but there are others that will probably be new to you. Trust me! All of them will be delicious!

Here are some photos of the extensive indulgence we enjoyed. (Click to enlarge.)

Veal Tongue Salad

Even if you think you might not like tongue, you’ll love this salad: thinly sliced veal tongue, daikon (white radish), fried onions, cucumber, carrots, and mayo. One of my favorites and not to be missed.

Smoked Eel Salad

That’s shredded kani (the type of faux crab meat sticks you’ll find in certain sushi rolls) piled on top of the smoked eel. Curiously Japanese!

Salad Delight

The taste of this one is at odds with what you’d expect from its appearance, and it’s marvelous. It features fried eggplant, nuts, feta cheese, and more in a sweet and sour dressing – it’s all about that dressing! Another must-do.

Journey to Baku

Grilled eggplant and tomatoes, chopped together “in the form of caviar” as the menu states. The Russian word pronounced ikrá (икрa) means caviar and is often applied to vegetables puréed like this; the Japanese word for caviar is ikura (イクラ). Yes, they’re cognates. And yes, the Russians had it first!

Kutaby with Lamb

A thin, griddled crepe filled with seasoned ground lamb and folded in half. That’s sumac sprinkled on the top – no, not the poison kind, of course! It imparts a tart but earthy, citrusy flavor to the dish. Sumac is very common in this cuisine and it’s often used as a garnish. They also make a version with greens instead of lamb, but you should definitely do the lamb.


Not julienne like French cut vegetables, but rather a gooey, cheesy, mushroom side dish. This is the definition of the word “rich”.

Shish Kabobs – Lamb, Lamb Ribs, Chicken Lulya

All of these are delectable, especially the fatty lamb ribs. Chicken Lulya is seasoned ground chicken, served here in wraps. I once brought my friend and former New York magazine food critic Gael Greene here. She adored the place. Gael doesn’t particularly care for ground chicken, but I insisted that she try these juicy little wonders; she loved them, pronounced them “luscious”, and might even venture back one day. Mission accomplished!


This is an Azerbaijani miracle of roasted sheep kidneys, heart, testicles, liver, potatoes, and onions. Wait! WAIT!! Don’t stop reading yet! This scrumptious offal is anything but awful. When I’ve ordered it for a group, I sometimes detected a look of trepidation passing across their faces. But believe it or not, I promise you that it never fails to be one of the stars of the show!
A few potatoes were all that remained of the Djiz-Biz. Believe me now?

Guru Hingal

I’ve saved the best for last. This handmade pasta must be ordered in advance and refrigerated overnight so that it can do what dough does. Featuring thick, buttery, luxurious pasta sheets topped with lamb and onions and served with a yogurt sauce, I refer to it as Azerbaijani comfort food. Once you’ve tried it, I guarantee you’ll want more. Get. This. Dish.
And then some: If you check out the menu, you’ll also see something called “Ravioli”. Presumably, this is the “English” translation of pelmeni, savory dumplings that ravioli can only aspire to. They’re great too, particularly the lamb variety. So many dishes, but these are the highlights; you won’t be sorry with any of these!
Village Café is located at 1968 Coney Island Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
(Note that the restaurant itself is set back from the street so it can be easy to miss if you’re zooming past!)