As much as a self-proclaimed food lover as I am, I was guilty of not having a clue what Uzbek cuisine is. Alas, I had the pleasure of finding out this week!
Uchkuduk restaurant came up on my Facebook feed as a sponsored ad and right away it grabbed my attention. Let me tell ya, those sponsored ads do work like magic. It’s often how I learn about so many places to eat in Dubai. Someone recently asked me how do you find these places? Well, those ads AND good old Mr. Google. After all, everything IS look-er-upable. That’s not a real word, by the way. I just like to use it. 😉
I loooove exploring new foods. And Dubai is just a certainly a culinary paradise for gastronomes. There are not only a mountain of global food franchises here, but a whole lot of family-owned and local franchises popping up every day. I added Uchkuduk to my list of fun food trails in Dubai. So be it, so done. I was there before I knew it.
I really did not know what to expect and much to my surprise, it was absolutely WONDERFUL!
It went like this….
We walked into an aesthetic dream and instantly captivated! It was bright and festive, with authentic embroidered tablecloths and pillows everywhere. The well-dressed server quickly approached us and let us choose where to sit. I thought we’d fall on the way to our table because there was so much for our eyes to take in. There was a TV hiked-up on the center area, blaring what seemed like a Russian channel’s cooking show. I really liked that. It sort of added to the charm of it all.
We were amazed by the many varieties of dishes on the menu, bedazzled by the pictures, and wished we could order one of everything. Lots of meat, rice, and dumpling dishes — but equally as many salads and interesting choices of soups. The prices were reasonable. The server, who had the charm of Mikhail Baryshnikov, flashed a huge smile and offered help in choosing as we started shooting him questions. Great, they have a business lunch special offering choices in four categories! Aha! One of these, please, but we MUST have that Herring Salad photographed so beautifully.
So we order, we wait, and then the food starts to arrive as it’s ready. Hands down, everything we ate was delicious. Delicate flavor profiles that perfectly complimented each other. The pumpkin Mantis were huge with a light texture. The round Uzbek bread was oven-fresh warm and dangerously addictive. It tasted like sourdough bread. It has a hollow in the middle, with a decoration done by round stamps and needles.
Va-va-voom! Then comes the highlight of my meal — the Herring Salad. A stack of flavor and texture profiles that will blow your mind. Herring on the bottom, followed by potatoes, carrots, beets and eggs. It may sound odd, but it just works. My eyes popped out at the first taste. The eggplant salad was from the Korean part of the menu and was just amazing. It was a cold dish and very good. The cold yogurt-based soup was flavorful and soothing. The Cheburek’s (a meat and cheese filled empanada) dough reminded me of our beloved Crucian pate’s crispy exterior. The food tasted like it was made by little old ladies wearing babushkas, spending their days grinding spices with all their recipes memorized, with nary a need to measure.
So it turns out Uzbek cuisine is, of course, the cuisine of Uzbekistan, which is at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It’s typically classified as Central Asian ethnic food, or some just consider it Russian food. There were Korean dishes on the menu because apparently Stalin moved thousands of Russian ethnic Koreans to Uzbekistan in the 1930s. But from what I saw on their menu, it seemed like a mixture of Arabic, Turkish, Russian and Asian cuisines. Its position on the ancient Silk Road explains the mix of cultures, which date a few thousand years. Talk about a fusion I never expected!
Houston, I think we have a problem. I will have to go back for sure. The signature Uzbek dish is Plov (a main course made with rice, pieces of meat, grated carrots and onions), so I’d like to try that. Other must tries are the Lagman, Shurpa, Kuza Shurva, and Azhapsanda.
The takeaway: If you have never had Uzbek cuisine, go find a restaurant now and go.