Samarkand, great city of the Silk Road in Uzbekistan.
Sometimes you find yourself wandering through the far reaches of Queens carrying an umbrella and a wedding dress, looking for Uzbek food.
Let me explain, though it be a long story. Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis had a knee operation a year ago and I found myself in the position of nurse (I'm sure everything would have been better had she followed my advice and let me perform the surgery at home with a corkscrew and a rubber band, but...). I asked in return Uzbek food, since I had read there were so many Uzbekis in Rego Park, Queens that the area is often referred to as "Regostan."
Things move slowly. A year later, Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis had healed from her operation and had been proposed to. She had Martin Luther King Day off and we went to Queens to pick up the wedding dress she had picked out the day before (Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis has been handling the wedding preparations with ruthless efficiency). So we decided that afterwards we would follow the "R" train out to Rego Park in eastern Queens so I could finally cash in on the Uzbek food. We went to the bridal store where I looked away from the dress, lest I be blinded, held out my credit card, and paid extra money for a bag that would keep me from seeing the dress by mistake. I then draped it over my umbrella and we set out for the Silk Road, New York City.
The restaurants in Regostan are all kosher (which I love, since I'm allergic to shrimp and I never have to worry about eating it by mistake in kosher restaurants). This is because most of the central Asians who have come to Regostan are Bukharian Jews, who trace their origins back to the Babylonian captivity, and 90% of whom have emigrated to Israel and the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Bukharian Jews, circa 1890.
The Bukharian Jews spoke their own language, a mix of Hebrew and Persian, and lived a culture that went back thousands of years.
After a bit of googling, I had settled on a restaurant called Cheburechnaya. Unfortunately, the one website that gave a subway stop gave the wrong one, and so we had quite a walk to the restaurant carrying a heavy wedding dress. We finally made our way down 63rd Drive, a commercial street with signs in Russian and English. We reached Cheburechnaya, a brightly-lit place with a big neon sign across the street from an old white wooden Lutheran church that must have been built in a very different kind of neighborhood.
We sat down at the table and looked around us. I believe we were the only non-Bukharians there. The televisions displayed Russian music videos. We carefully examined the menu (warning to Crystal and Sandalstraps and other vegetarians: strange animal parts to be featured). We started with soup. Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis had a succulent and filling oxtail soup (shurpa), and I had lagman, a soup with a Silk Road connection -- lagman is apparently connected to Chinese lo mein, and features wonderful handmade noodles and delicious broth. We also had cheburikis, pastries filled with mushrooms and cabbage.
Then it was time for the meat. The restaurant offers a number of kebabs on big sword-like spits. We ordered three. Lulya (a kind of spiced meatball), veal sweetbreads, and...
LAMB'S HEART ON A STICK!
That's right. We devoured the heart of the beast and took from it its strength. Unfortunately, it wasn't still beating when we gnashed it to pieces with our teeth, but the good thing was that, like any other part of a lamb, it tasted like lamb. It was good. It wasn't the funkiest lamb part on the menu, either.
We both enjoyed the lulya. I liked the sweetbreads, but Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis was not as enthusiastic about its texture. It is the animal's pancreas, after all ("A certaine Glandulous part, called Thimus, which in Calues... is most pleasaunt to be eaten. I suppose we call it the sweete bread..." John Banister, The historie of man, 1578. Thank you, OED). I found it very tasty. It melts in one's mouth.
I do regret we didn't try one of the salads, it would have gone well with the meat. We washed the whole thing down with gallons of green tea, had a lovely almond cake dessert, paid the ridiculously small tab, and left, a wedding dress in our arms and a desire to return for more in our hearts. The Uzbeck food adventure had been thoroughly successful.