Tuesday, January 30, 2007

cor bestiae devoravimus

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.

14 comments:

crystal said...

Nice photos.

lamb's heart on a stick!??! and oxtail soup (shurpa) ... I thought they only served that in the Himalayas :-)

Sandalstraps said...

An excellent story, even if it did feature the dismembered parts of a dearly departed animal friend!

Reminds me a bit of the time I was, at the tender age of 13, in Scotland. Our hosts told me that I just had to try a local treat: hagus. They wouldn't tell me what it was until after I had eaten some.

Yummy. No wonder I don't eat meat.

Jeff said...

New York, New York, what a town! It really does have everything you could ever need. If you live there, why worry about having to go anywhere else?

Steve Bogner said...

Yum! Sounds great; makes me hungry thinking about it.

Liam said...

I've eaten stranger things in Spain. It's all good.

crystal said...

hey, is your picture of lamb heart on a stick a tarot card?

Liam said...

Crystal, I believe it is. I googled "heart" and "sword."

cowboyangel said...

Mary had a little lamb
whose fleece was white as snow . . .


At least until a bunch of Bukharian Jews slit its throat, cut out its internal organs, and jabbed a stick through its wee heart and roasted it up for sick, bored Manhattanhites who feel like slumming with the Uzbeks.

You realize, of course, that you'll meet up with that lamb one day in heaven and have to explain yourself.

"Uh . . . well we did want to slurp up your heart with a nice tasty salad."

I guess that fried cow's udder in Madrid wasn't enough for you, eh Hannibal? You . . . you . . . animal-organ-eater.

Good post, though.

cowboyangel said...

New York, New York, what a town! It really does have everything you could ever need. If you live there, why worry about having to go anywhere else?

What Liam didn't mention was the six-hour subway ride to Queens, because the train got stuck between stations due to crumbling infrastructure, and then changed into a G Train for Brooklyn with only one announcement on a static-filled loudspeaker. Or the mentally unstable man next to them in the train car who was holding a fire extinguisher and dressed as Santa Claus and kept yelling: "God's coming to take your shoes and He's angry!" Or the 4-foot rat crawling around the subway platform with a baby's hand hanging out of its mouth. Or the used diaper left on the subway seat. Or the argument between the twitchy, gun-toting old guy who hasn't taken a bath in a year and the fur-coat wearing, peroxide blonde with 12-inch colored fingernails who was shouting into her cell phone and jabbing everyone around her with her Sak's 5th Ave bags. And that was just the subway ride!

Ah, New York . . .

Then again, at least the Big Apple (and 9 other cities) didn't wet their starched knickers and declare a terrorist invasion over a PR campaign for a cartoon! :-)

Liam said...

Cowboy, I can tell you need to spend some more time back in Madrid (is there a fried animal part that we have not sampled in the bars there?). Also, it is good you got out of Brooklyn.

I don't know what you have against the subway rats. Checking the tracks for rats is how I pass the time waiting for a train. It's sort of like birdwatching.

Jeff said...

I ate some meat once in a waterfront restauant in Lisbon, I don't know what it was... It was cheap though

why worry about having to go anywhere else?

Oh, yes. Those were the reasons why. That and a $65 dollar cab fare I suffered once going from Bayside to Soho. Thank you, William... I'm not surprised that they charged Liam extra for a wedding-dress-vision-blocking bag.

Or the 4-foot rat crawling around the subway platform with a baby's hand hanging out of its mouth.

Maybe that was just a rat getting even with Dali. Besides, they don't got rats in their subway like we've got 'em, believe me.

Then again, at least the Big Apple (and 9 other cities) didn't wet their starched knickers and declare a terrorist invasion over a PR campaign for a cartoon! :-)


At least we noticed them. It was money well-spent here, even if they had to reimburse us for some of it.

Those clowns and their haircut rant! Did you ever see the movie I love You To Death? Those guys make the William Hurt and Kianu Reeves characters look like Mensa society. Maybe instead of planting guerilla ads on bridges and highways around the country they should try humping a rucksack, kevlar and a 16 while they dismantle IEDs on the infrastructure in Anbar Province. :-)

cowboyangel said...

I do need to go back to Madrid, but not necessarily for the fried animal organs. True, that offered a bit of color to the experience, but it's not the part of Spain I think of on a daily basis.

I have seen no rats in Port Jefferson. Squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, rabbits and some kind of small fast furry thing that remains unidentified. None of them had a baby's hand sticking out of their mouths.

Rat-watching. Excellent. You realize of course, you could publish a Field Guide to New York Rat-Watching and it would pay your Columbia bills.

Stop messing around with that database of Medieval charters and get down to the real, true work of your life.

cowboyangel said...

Maybe instead of planting guerilla ads on bridges and highways around the country they should try humping a rucksack, kevlar and a 16 while they dismantle IEDs on the infrastructure in Anbar Province. :-)

Excellent point! Though I'm not sure if what they did - as stupid as it was - deserves such cruel punishment.

Jeff said...

No, of course not. :-) I think it does highlight, though, the stark differences that can be found within that generation and the unanticipated consequences of having an all-volunteer army.

There is a very real sense within the military ranks and families that the military is at war and the rest of the country is not, and I think there is a lot of truth in that. There is also the real peril that such a military will feel more and more distanced in its politics and values from the nation it serves, and thus becomes a convenient tool for people who think they have a free hand to do whatever they like with such a force, public opinion and the Constitution be damned. I think we've seen that come to fruition in Iraq.

As for the gag... You're right of course... Yes, Boston over-reacted, but yes, the over-reaction was also understandable. The planes that hit the towers both origniated out of Boston. Yes, I think we are extra touchy about it here. There is a lingering fear and a lingering sense of guilt and responsibility that might make us more sensitive than people in other places.