A Hamburger Today
If I'm Going, Then Uyguring to Cafe Arzu
"I'm going Uyguring" isn't something I get to say very often, but I wish it were. As far as I know, there are only three restaurants in New York City that specialize in Uyghur cuisine, the food of Central Asia's Turkic people—and I don't foresee that number growing.
Accompanied by five hungry friends, I visited one of these restaurants, Cafe Arzu in Rego Park, Queens, with a few specific dishes on my mind: giant dumplings, giant rounds of bread, and giant bowls of hand-pulled noodles. All these dishes were consumed, and then some.
Lepeshka, the homemade bread, resembled like a hubcap-sized donut, although where there would've been a hole, a small flower design had been cut out of the dough. The bread had a thin crispy crust on the outside encasing soft, chewy innards. It was addictive eaten plain, and even more so when dipped in the soup we would get next.
The giant bowl of noodles came in the form of lagman, long strands of hand-pulled wheat noodles—thick like Japanese udon but less uniform—in a spicy, aromatic soup with vegetables and the most tender chunks of beef. This had "comfort food" written all over it—if only lagman shops could be as prevalent as ramen shops.
The lamb shish kebabs were unlike any other form I had ever eaten. When I bit into the impaled cubes of lamb meat, they exploded with juice. They were basically little tender sponges of lamby liquids. I thought the eight sticks we ordered may have been too much, but we managed to eat it all.
Lamb appeared again in the samsa, flaky triangular pastries filled with chopped lamb and onion. This form of lamb wasn't as delicious as the kebab, but dough stuffed with meat still tastes good. It also partially had to do with the satisfaction you get from eating something with your hands—bao, empanadas, sandwiches all benefit from this characteristic. A sweet tomato sauce was served on the side, but I thought the samsa tasted fine on its own without the additional flavor or moisture. If only it had a bone sticking out to use as a handle.
And then there was more lamb. The same lamb and onion mix in the samsa seemed to also be in the steamed manty, which look like slightly larger versions of Chinese soup dumplings. There's no soup in these dumplings though, just meat pinched shut within a thin, slightly chewy skin. Meat wrapped in dough triumphs once more.
While I enjoyed everything that I tried, the one dish I'd want the most the next time I go "Uyghuring" is the lagman... unless I can rally up another group of six or more (many of the tables could fit eight), in which case I would order other kinds of kebabs, another kind of manty, fried pemlenis, and other dishes to essentially recreate the meal I just had, but with more food.
10105 Queens Blvd, Flushing, NY 11375 (map)