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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bringing Central Asia Together with Plov

Uccblk Kylb- Ulaanbataar, Mongolia
I convinced Christan to try the Uccblk restaurant tonight. To be honest, it didn't take much convincing as we were both eager to try some mutton with spices, which is pretty much what Uzbek and Kyrgyz food is as opposed to Mongolian food which is mutton without spices.
First we were both a little surprised by the strange spelling of Uzbek (Uccblk). We went inside and were greeted by a friendly Mongolian staff.
I was really excited to finally try some of the Central Asian food my family and friends have raved about for so long. I pretty much told Christian what we had to order. Once we got the menu we were treated to another surprise. Apparently the Uccblk Club is a Kyrgyz-centric restaurant (see pictures). When the waiter came he told us "we have kyrgyz lagman, kyrgyz plov, and kyrgyz beshbormak." I foolishly said "well, beshbormak is Kazakh food too, right?" To which he replied, "No, our chef is Kyrgyz." Long story short, we had a kyrgyz chef at the Uccblk restaurant make us lagman and plov in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia. I guess it's not THAT strange, but you generally don't find other Central Asians in Mongolia.
Having never had lagman before, and only hearing Jake go on and on about how amazing the stuff was while searching the Buhkaran Jewish section of NYC during Passover only to find the lagman restaurant closed, really built up my expectations. Maybe the lagman tastes better in Bishkek, Kashgar, Tashkent, or New York. We deemed this lagman "Central Asian Spaghetti". It was muttony noodles. The Mongols have a similar dish called tsuivan. The plov, however, was very tasty. Christian remarked that it tasted like the plov his host mother in Buryatia. In my mind, that gave it extra bonus points.
Next time I'm going to try the upscale "Tashkent" restaurant. That's the other "Uzbek" restaurant in town. Then I can compare the plov! On the way out of Uccblk Club I peeked in the kitchen to try and steal a glimpse of the Kyrgyz chef, but to be honest, everyone in the kitchen looked Mongolian and was speaking Mongolian. Perhaps she is from the elusive Mongolian speaking minority supposedly living around Lake Issyk Kul....
Enjoy the photos!

"Jewish Salad"- Absolutely nothing about this salad looked Jewish to me.
Plov- MMmmmMMmmm
A bit about Kyrgyzstan, in Russian , at the Uccblk Club, in Mongolia
Pictures of Issyk Kul and the beautiful city of Bishkek
"Kyrgyz" food
Central Asian Spaghetti-AKA Lagman


Azamat said...

Ulaana, great post. It's funny that you found a Kyrgyz cafe there. Anyways, Issyk-Kul, as you pointed out, is the name of the lake, literally "warm lake."
We in Central Asia always argue about the ownership of lagman, plov, manty, beshbarmak, etc. Because Central Asia, before the Soviet division into nationalities, was one historic, cultural, and religious area, all these ethnic groups (Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen, to some extent Uiguyr) made variations of these dishes. Judging from my personal tastes, I like the Uzbek-made (Not Samarqandi, but from Ferghana valley) plov, Uigur-made lagman (Lagman derives from Chinese "lomen" for noodle.), while Kyrgyz and Kazak beshbarmaks taste the same to me (As nomads, Kyrgyz and Kazakhs do not have much spices either. Plus, we don't have much desert). Anyways, Turks, Persians, and Pakistani might also argue about the origin/ownership of plov/pilaf.
Kyrgyz cafes abroad have a handful of names: Issyk-Kul, Alatoo, Manas, etc. They do not necessarily show the origin of the cafe owners.
If you find a Uzbek cafe, try their plov.

Andrew Campbell said...

mmmm, plov... wait till your brother sees it. Interesting translation of the Israeli salads you can get at the Uzbek places here in NYC.

Give our regards to Christian, fellow survivor of Mongolian Indo-Mex food.


John said...

Rear! That plov made my mouth water. Must be having Central Asian withdrawl. Need a fix, lickety split!!! Anyhow, looks like the place is called the Issyk-Klub, which looks like Uzbek in fancy cyrillic, hence the confusion. Tend to agree with ole Azamot above about the "juda mazili" Uzbek "Osh" (Plov) from the Ferghana Valley, and yearn from my Uighur Host moms Lagman made from scratch. Downright delicious. Speaking of which, I spent my bday with friends at the Russian Club in downtown DC. Madness. Love ya!

Ulaana said...

Fancy Cyrillic, eh? I see it now. Thanks for clearing that up! Now I really have to try the Tashkent restaurant here to see if they plov is different or better...

from Mongolia said...

Ulaana said...

I'm glad to see that the Uzbeks were happy to be represented in Mongolia!