Cafe At Your Mother-in-Law

Instagram Post 11/12/2018

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It may come as a surprise to some that North Korea and Russia share a border: 11 land miles of “terrestrial border” and 12 nautical miles of “maritime border”, and during the Japanese occupation in the 1920s–30s, some Koreans escaped to Russia via this route. Subsequently, Stalin moved all Koreans in Russia to Central Asia, mostly Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan; they self-identified as Koryo-Saram and their fusion-by-necessity cuisine is the focus of this post. You may have tasted some version of the spicy shredded carrot salad (morkovcha) offered by most Uzbek restaurants but it’s khe that I’ve come to crow about and Café At Your Mother-in-Law, 3071 Brighton 4th St just off Brighton Beach Ave in Brooklyn, does a remarkable job with it. Meaty chunks of raw fish marinated in vinegar, onions and Korean red chili are the main ingredients (recipes vary) in this delectable dish; [2] a cooked beef version is also available with slightly different seasonings but equally delicious. [3] Pegodya, a steamed bun stuffed with cabbage and meat that comes with a special house sauce, makes a good accompaniment. Khe is the reason I take folks to this restaurant on my Little Odessa ethnojunkets and I’m pleased to report that it’s always a hit.

I’m also pleased to report, speaking of ethnojunkets, that now you can book a food tour with me at your convenience without waiting for the next one to be announced. During colder weather and the holiday season, I tend to do fewer scheduled ethnojunkets, but that doesn’t mean that I stop doing them! Simply click here to find out how!
 
 

The Khinkali is Behind Door Number 1, Manti

Instagram Post 10/17/2018

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How can you tell the difference between Uzbek manti and Georgian khinkali? I mean, they’re both big, beautiful meat-filled dumplings, generally boiled or steamed, that hail from Former Soviet Union states. At first glance, they do seem similar but the shapes are the most evident giveaway: manti are pinched closed, sometimes completely sealed, sometimes with little gaps, and they look a bit like a flower or a pyramid or perhaps a child’s fist. Khinkali, on the other hand are always twisted closed in such a way that they resemble a Chinese soup dumpling on steroids, with a little topknot to be employed as a handle for refined eating. (There are those who eschew consuming the topknot, claiming that it’s just too doughy to be anything more than a mechanism for conveying dumpling to mouth; others happily chew it up because it’s part of the package, literally and figuratively.)

Manti fillings (photo 2) vary depending upon provenance, seasonality, and recipe (they’re actually Turkic/Central Asian) and are typically found bursting with juicy, deliciously seasoned lamb and onions diced into tiny chunks (when they’re hot, unlike these), although pumpkin varieties are not at all uncommon. Khinkali from Georgia, a Christian nation (Uzbekistan is predominantly Muslim) usually contain a mixture of ground pork and beef.

And how do they taste? I thought you’d never ask. That’s where personal experience comes into play. And if you join me on my Little Odessa ethnojunket this Saturday, October 20 (pretty sneaky, right?), we’re likely to procure one or the other or both as we eat our way along Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn. If you’d like to join us for the adventure, please click here for more information and to sign up. Hope to see you then!
 
 

U Yuri Fergana

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



The warmth exuded by a family run business and the luxury of a splendidly appointed restaurant are not at odds at U Yuri Fergana. This mom&populence, if you will, was in evidence from the gracious service through the appetizing dishes we enjoyed during a recent lunchtime visit to their location in Rego Park, Queens.

Its name translates to “Yuri from Fergana”: our host Yuri Moshev and his wife and head chef Myra hail from Fergana, the capital of the eponymous region in eastern Uzbekistan. They and their son Ben have created a unique establishment that distinguishes itself from the multitude of neighborhood Uzbek restaurants in that they operate a livestock production facility in College Point, so you can be certain that the meat is fresh and of high quality; the restaurant is kosher in keeping with the dominant Bukharan Jewish culture in the neighborhood.

Here are a few of the satisfying dishes we tried. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

Sautéed Eggplant Salad

A bright, sweet and sour mélange of sautéed veggies with eggplant in the spotlight; the perfect foil to the richly flavorful kebabs (see below).

Meat Salad

Although there was a pronounced sweetness to this dish, it was considerably different from and less sweet than the eggplant salad. Fresh, crispy and crunchy, the combination of flavors was even better than I had anticipated.

Peeking out from the side is Toki, baked into a parabola on the convex side of a wok and similar to matzo but a little less brittle; its tiny flecks of cumin were a welcome element.

Lagman Soup

Characterized by long, hand pulled noodles with a perfect chew, lagman soup is a fixture in this part of the world. It’s worth noting that the word “lagman” is a cognate of the Chinese “lo mein”, their geographical proximity providing the clue. This beefy, tomato and vegetable infused version was delicious.

Kebabs

What Uzbek meal would be complete without them? From left to right, ground lamb, lamb chop, liver, chicken, beef, and ground chicken. Usually, chunks of chicken are the also-ran in the company of other meats, but these were outstanding.

Leposhka (Homemade Bread) and French Fries (with dill and chopped garlic, of course!)

Gusinie Lapki (Goose Feet Cookies)

Not too sweet, these delicate cookies along with some tea provided the perfect finishing touch to our delightful meal.

Note that some large family-style items on the menu must be ordered in advance, so call ahead if there’s something on the menu that piques your interest.

U Yuri Fergana is located at 94-09 63rd Drive, Rego Park, Queens.


Note: This was a complimentary meal sponsored by the management of U Yuri Fergana. The opinions expressed in this post are uninfluenced and impartial.
 
 

Tashkent Supermarket

Instagram Post 12/20/2017

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There are numerous markets that feature prepared “Russian” food along Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach Avenue, otherwise known as Little Odessa, and I admit to having more than a few favorites. Each features a wealth of dishes hailing from the Baltic States, Eastern Europe, the Southern Caucasus, Central Asia, and mother Russia herself and each boasts its own renditions of this first-rate fare.
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Named for the capital city of Uzbekistan, Tashkent Supermarket at 713 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, NY, a relative newcomer to the strip, has a focus on Central Asian cuisine, but not exclusively. Shown here are three of my favorites from their salad bar. At the top there’s Lagman, a savory noodle dish (also found as a noodle soup) of the Uyghur people, an ethnic group living in East and Central Asia. Linguistically, the Chinese influence is easy to identify: lo mein → lagman. 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), a dish I have yet to find at any of the other markets. Very fine noodles and a generous measure of cumin accompany thinly sliced beef, although in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan it’s made with horsemeat!