If your grip on geography isn’t Google Maps caliber, here’s a little primer on the country called Uzbekistan: It borders five countries, including the familiar Afghanistan, the pop-culture-familiar Kazakhstan (which you might recall from the movie Borat) and three other places that fall into the “stans” category — Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Or, if you’d like something simpler, it’s north of the Middle East, south of Russia and pretty damned close to China.
Located on a humdrum stretch of Bustleton Avenue, Uzbekistan restaurant boasts a sign out front of a Santa-esque, bearded man toting round, sesame-studded loaves of bread. A canopied outdoor seating area gives way inside to a warm dining room that emanates a Russian-grandma vibe. And on any given afternoon the patrons are those very grandmas, seated around tables filled with china teapots, plates of Russian salads, bowls of red and green borscht and loaves of bread. On the menu are Russian standards like Olivie salad, a wonderfully mayonnaise-y potato salad with perfectly cubed carrots, pickles, cucumber and boiled chicken. With this dish, the Asian and Middle Eastern influence is immediately apparent. A plate of herring and boiled potatoes is served with sharp slices of white onion sprinkled with sour sumac. The salad menu includes an item called “chimcha Korean,” described as “Korean cabbage spicy marinated” and an eggplant salad studded with walnuts and pomegranate seeds. There is a cheburek, something that is most easily (or not so easily) described as the empanada of the Crimean Tatars, a deep-fried, half-moon-shaped pastry filled with a finely ground mix of mincemeat, onion and cilantro. It is served with a gravy boat of sweet and spicy tomato sauce — ketchup-with-a-kick. The flavors at Uzbekistan are exotic. But there is also a distant familiarity, one that makes the geography of this unfamiliar spot almost familiar.
Uzbekistan | 12012 Bustleton Ave., 215-671-1990, igrena.com/uzbekistan. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. Appetizers: $4.89-$10.99, entrees: $5.19-$21.99.
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