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Sep 23, 2006 12:00 AM

best uzbek food?

hey folks,

for his 60th birthday, we've been taking my dad on a restaurant tour of toronto. our next monthly lunch is tomorrow. he remembered reading the toronto star article last year about uzbek food in toronto and wanted to check it out...but of course, now i can't find a link to the star article.

please help! any thoughts on the best place to go for newbies to check out uzbek food? i've found references to tashkent, uzbek restaurant and halleluia restaurant on the board...where would we get the best food and/or experience?

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  1. Hi there. I did save that article and have it on my laptop at the office, so will try to pull it up for you tomorrow. There's a place we sometimes go for lunch from the office and I've forgotten the name now, but I believe this article mentions it.

    1. Hi, here is the article. Unfortunately the place we used to go to (Uzbekistan Restaurant) has closed.

      from the Toronto Star:
      Uzbek plov-a-thon
      To speak the language of Uzbek food, you need just four key words. They are: plov, lagman, manti and samsa.

      Four words. Four intriguing dishes. Four known Uzbek restaurants here, all of them hugging Steeles Ave. W. between Bathurst and Keele.

      Any exploration of this little-known Central Asian cuisine must start with plov — the national dish of Uzbekistan.

      Pronounced "plove," but sometimes listed on menus as pilav, plov has more than 100 variations but it's always served here as a fragrant — if oily — blend of rice, lamb, carrots, cumin seeds and chickpeas.

      And, in an unusual twist, plov is traditionally cooked only by men. At Tashkent Restaurant on Petrolia Rd., that man is Georgi Abazov, who arrives around 7 a.m. every morning to create a day's worth of plov (and a few other key dishes) for his wife Bella's 4-year-old restaurant, named for Uzbekistan's capital.

      Lamb and onions are fried with vegetable oil, then simmered with water, carrots, cumin seeds, chickpeas and white rice (from Uzbekistan via New York City). A head of garlic is buried in the ambrosial mix, which is cooked in a heavy, round-bottomed Uzbek pot called a kazan. The special pot is used only for plov.

      It's the same drill at Uzbekistan Restaurant on Bathurst St. Here, it's owner Yuriy Aronov who presides over the plov. Don't you dare suggest it appears to be an easy recipe.

      "It is not simple to cook," he says in Russian via translator Svitlana Karpova, a waitress at the 1 1/2-year-old restaurant. "You must know exactly the proportions you should put in."

      In Uzbekistan, he remembers, families gather every Thursday (the first day of the week there) to make plov. They eat it by hand from a communal dish, with only salad on the side.

      Rice is plov's key ingredient. "You should make it look beautiful," says Aronov. "Use short rice, and when you cook it, it becomes long, and it should not be stuck to each other." He often uses Mr. Goudas calrose rice — which is recommended as an arborio or sushi rice substitute.

      Aronov insists I watch him make a kazan full of plov — a 75-minute process that will create 35 servings for the day.

      He makes the dish in layers — first lamb shanks and carrots, then more carrots and chickpeas, then rice — and carefully pours water in through a kafkir (Uzbek slotted spoon). He repeatedly adds and removes a head of garlic to perfectly flavour things. (Unpeeled cloves adorn the finished bowl.) Most importantly, he constantly adjusts the heat on the gas stove.

      Throughout this plov-a-thon, Aronov relays the dish's complicated history that dates back centuries and involves hungry soldiers. The story is entertaining, but doesn't translate too well. Neither does this unintentionally humorous description from a tourism website for the city of Tashkent: "Uzbek national dishes are not only greasy, most of them are thick and have a much volume. Thanks to it they are rich in calories."

      A word about Uzbekistan. An independent republic since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, it's slightly larger than California and is surrounded by Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The Embassy of Uzbekistan to the United States reports that the 26-million Uzbekistanis are mainly ethnic Uzbeks (80 per cent), rounded out by Russians, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Tatars and others.

      The country is 88 per cent Muslim (mostly moderate Sunnis), followed by Eastern Orthodox (9 per cent). Toronto's Uzbekistani community, however, is mainly Jewish. Aronov estimates there are about 200 families who came here via Israel.

      Aside from the fact that our Uzbek restaurants aren't run by Muslims and so don't offer halal meat, religion is irrelevant when it involves food from multicultural, multi-faith Uzbekistan. Everyone enjoys the same dishes. And our four Uzbek restaurants — Taskhent, Uzbekistan, Halleluia and Anton — serve a mix of Uzbek, Russian, European and Middle Eastern fare.

      "This is an international restaurant," says Bella Abazov, who took over Tashkent in 2001 from an Uzbek man who'd owned it since 1999. "Canadian people, Uzbek people, Russians, people from China, Spain, Italy — everyone comes here."

      Tashkent, however, has the most extensive Uzbek menu in town. Halleluia and Anton each have four Uzbek dishes. Uzbekistan used to have nine dishes, cut that down to two to refocus on European fare, but is now reconsidering its menu. Taskhent has more than a dozen Uzbek offerings, including spicy Korean-style carrot and cabbage dishes.

      If this sounds odd, realize that hundreds of thousands of ethnic Koreans living in the U.S.S.R. in 1937 were deported to central Asian countries like Uzbekistan by Joseph Stalin, who feared they might be spies for Japan.

      Anyway, Abazov makes her own chimcha — the Uzbek version of Korean kimchi, cabbage marinated with spices and vinegar.

      But the best dish at Tashkent is a soup called lagman. In it, tiny, hand-chopped pieces of lamb swim in a cumin-scented broth with onions, tomatoes, garlic and long, homemade noodles. It's topped with a handful of fresh dill.

      Lamb, clearly, is the favoured meat in Uzbek dishes. It reappears in the final two dishes we'll explore — manti and samsa.

      For manti, chopped lamb is spiced and cooked with onions, then wrapped in dough and steamed in a kaskan (double boiler). The dumplings are served with garlic or dill-laced sour cream or yogurt.

      A similar medley of meat and onions fills samsa, a baked pastry that's sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds. At Halleluia Restaurant on Steeles, samsa is sided with a bowl of homemade tomato sauce.

      Owner Boris Yosefi, who left Uzbekistan 16 years ago and spent 10 years in Israel before arriving in Toronto, helped open Anton restaurant on Bathurst in 2002. He struck out on his own with Halleluia eight months ago.

      "Don't forget — anyone who used to live in Russia, they love this food," he notes.

      What's not to love about a cuisine that revolves around lamb, rice and cumin, and that's rounded out by grilled flatbread (usually Iranian) and green tea?

      May our burgeoning Uzbek food scene continue to flourish.