#147 Kyrgyzstan: angry bulls and bad food bloggers

 

As you can probably tell from my recent blog posts about non-Gambian food, Tunisian food, Kenyan food with an asterisk, and Costa Rican food with another asterisk, I’m starting to struggle a little. I have fewer than two dozen countries left. They’re hard.

caption here

but eating a nice salad with assloads of dill isn’t hard, even if it’s not really Kyrgyz…

 

My latest desperate food-hunting activity: cold-calling United Nations missions, looking for somebody who might be willing to cook. The bad news: nobody answers the phone in most small-country UN missions, and I often get routed back to a cranky American operator at a central UN switchboard. But when I called the Kyrgyz mission, a very nice gentleman answered, and advised me to contact the New York City Kyrgyz Club if I wanted to find Kyrgyz food.

So I did that. Unfortunately, the NYC Kyrgyz Club seems to have vanished into thin air. I sent messages via email and Facebook. No response. When I called the Kyrgyz Club’s telephone number, the poor fellow who answered the phone explained that he didn’t know anything about Kyrgyzstan and wished that he had a different phone number.

I even tried to attend the Kyrgyz Club’s annual Nooruz celebration at 8:00 on a Monday morning, at the iconic Charging Bull statue near Wall Street – which, incidentally, the New York Stock Exchange tried to repress. I went to the bull at the appointed hour, and instead spent two hours munching bagels in a nearby café, eyeballing the bull through the window. Not a Kyrgyz in sight.

I'm pretty sure that the bull is charging because it's hangry, and will be in a better mood after some nice Kyrgyz ashlam-fu

my theory: the bull is charging because it’s hangry, and just wants some Kyrgyz ashlam-fu

 

So the Kyrgyz Club, sadly, seems to be nothing more than a rumor these days. Fortunately, the nice man at the Kyrgyz UN Mission also recommended that I eat at Nargis Café in Brooklyn. When I gently protested that Nargis Café is owned by people from Uzbekistan, not Kyrgyzstan, he didn’t flinch: “Yeah, but the food is pretty much the same,” the nice Kyrgyz gentleman responded.

well, I guess most pickle plates pretty much look the same...

well, I guess it’s true that most central Asian pickle plates pretty much look the same…

 

Ironically, this was not the first time that I’d caught a Kyrgyz official with his hand in the proverbial Uzbek cookie jar. Years ago, I met a member of the Kyrgyz United Nations mission at a place called Alladin (not to be confused with Aladdin, a nearby restaurant with a different spelling) that served tasty Uzbek horse meat salad. Sadly, that particular place was wrecked by Hurricane Sandy a few years ago.

Anyway, I did what the nice Kyrgyz man said to do, and I ate at Nargis Café. The food was indeed amazing. We started with a hot loaf of bread (lepeshka) and salad bojon, a fresh eggplant spread with garlic:

salad bojon from Nargis Cafe Uzbek restaurant NYC

 

We then ate a couple of different dumpling-like creatures, starting with khonim, consisting of pasta-like dough stuffed with beef, lamb, potatoes, and onions, and served with tomato and yogurt sauce:

Bukharian Uzbek khonim from Nargis Cafe Brooklyn

 

And then there was an excellent and unique version of manti – stuffed with pumpkin, of all things:

pumpkin manti from Nargis Cafe Bukharian Uzbek restaurant NYC

 

Here’s lagman stew, made from vegetables and meat in a nice, beefy broth, with plenty of dill and other herbs:

Bukharian Uzbek lagman stew from Nargis Cafe Brooklyn

 

And my very favorite dish of the day was bhash, translated on the menu as “green plov.” I’ve never met a plate of central Asian plov I didn’t like, and I’ve even eaten it from Ziploc bags on random street corners. But this version was particularly special. The description on the menu was both amusing and accurate: “diced lamb, chicken and liver, and good amount of mixed herbs, very tasty.”

yup, very tasty

yup, very tasty

 

So yeah, the fellow at the Kyrgyz UN mission was completely correct: Nargis Café is pretty badass.

But here’s my dirty little secret: I ate legit Kyrgyz food in Brooklyn a long time ago. I just never wrote about it.

For a hot second several years ago, there was a restaurant in Brooklyn – not too far from Nargis Café – named Café Avat, with a Kyrgyz chef. I ate there, took photos, then forgot about the whole thing. Apparently, the brain cells tasked with remembering the event were killed in another tragic bourbon accident.

I figured that it was no big deal if I didn’t write about it right away, because it’s not like the restaurant would vanish into thin air or anything. I mean, I could always go back and eat another meal there…

Oh wait. Yeah, that place did vanish into thin air. But the food was pretty good. Hey, look – kabobs and pickles!

Kyrgyz kabobs at Cafe Avat Brooklyn

Kyrgyz pickled vegetables at Cafe Avat NYC

 

And this one here is hanim – very similar to Nargis Café’s dumpling-like khonim, but stuffed only with shredded potato, and served with a tomato sauce:

Kyrgyz hanim at Cafe Avat NYC

 

My favorite dish of the day was probably the pleasantly beefy and garlicky gan-fan, which is similar to the lagman stew that’s popular throughout the region, except that gan-fan is served atop rice, instead of in a noodle soup:

Kyrgyz gan-fan at Cafe Avat Brooklyn

 

And finally, there was the ashlam-fu, a cold cucumber, tomato, and noodle salad, topped with a red-pepper sauce and served with an interesting twist: totally non-photogenic slabs of bright-white mung bean jello. Fascinating, and unlike anything else I’ve ever seen in a salad:

Kyrgyz ashlam-fu at Cafe Avat Brooklyn

jiggle jiggle

 

So yeah, I’ve had Kyrgyz food, prepared by a Kyrgyz chef in New York City. You can’t have any though, because I’m a crappy food blogger, and the restaurant is long gone.

But there’s nothing wrong with doing what the Kyrgyz diplomats tell you to do: just go to Nargis Café, and order something with lots of green herbs in it. I suppose that it’s much easier than hanging out with an angry bull statue, hoping that Kyrgyz food will magically appear.

 

Nargis Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nargis Cafe
2818 Coney Island Avenue, Brooklyn
Subway: Sheepshead Bay (B, Q trains)

 

Know of anyplace that still serves Kyrgyz food? Any idea where Cafe Avat’s Kyrgyz chef might be working now? Want to help me find other hard-to-find cuisines? Email me at unitednationsoffood@gmail.com, or find me on Twitter (@UNofFoodNYC) or Facebook. If you find me something blog-worthy, I promise not to be a slow lazy starchy ball of soggy calories, and I’ll actually write the post before the place closes down next time.

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