The shop is small, unassuming: a simple window on Grunewaldstraße behind which three tall stalls packed close together wait for customers. It would be easy to pass by without noticing Uzbek Eats. Easy, but a mistake.
For someone unaware, the only thing that might draw attention to this unpretentious little restaurant would be the groups of people waiting outside. We visited in the middle of January, yet the wind blowing down the main street didn’t faze any of those patiently waiting their turn. They knew why they were there, and chatted warmly to each other in Russian as they waited for crispy baked Samsa cooked in a tandoor oven; heaped portions of Plov topped with raisins, onion, nuts and carrots and large, folded Manti dumplings. In the first 20 minutes after we arrived at our table, perhaps 15 separate people came to make their orders. They ordered in Russian, but these were Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Germans: anyone who’d heard about this little spot serving up some of the best Central Asian cooking you can find in Berlin.
Plov is a famous dish in all the former Soviet republics, but the Uzbek version is special: softer, less greasy, more delicate. The basic ingredients are meat, rice and vegetables, but getting it right requires some artistry. The cook who prepares it here spent four years cooking in the Embassy of Uzbekistan, and you can watch him lower huge legs of lamb into a wok filled with oil heated to just below boiling point. When the dish arrived, it was covered with herbs, spring onions, shallots, orange and yellow carrots, and topped with lamb that was meltingly tender.
It wasn’t just the Plov that had drawn the groups out on this wintry afternoon. In fact, the feature that owner Ernazar Rysaliev was most proud of (he mentioned it repeatedly; he pointed at it; he sent us a video of it) was the tandoor oven. In order to prepare the Samsa, the cook reaches down inside this special clay kiln and sticks the doughy parcels to its inner walls. Inside, the little pies cook slowly. From the start of preparation to the finished dish the whole process takes about 10 hours, but they’re worth it. Crispy pastry on the outside, chewy within, filled with tender juicy lamb and onions, it was clear what the fuss was all about. Again and again, customers would enter and ask: Samsa? Not everyone was lucky, but they kept coming back.
The menu at Uzbek Eats is small, which has one clear advantage, you can try everything: the Lagman, handmade noodles in a sour tomato stew brimming with celery, green beans, cabbage and hunks of meat (or Ganfan – the same dish with rice), the steamed Manti dumplings, the carrot salad with fenugreek, the chimchi (a salty Uzbek take on kimchi, brought to the country by North Korean immigrants). Everything we tasted was exceptional, but you don’t need to take our word for it: you can tell by the number of people waiting at the door.
- Uzbek Eats, €€, Grunewaldstraße 35, 10823 Berlin