Eshak adds an Uzbek twist to Dubai din­ing

Matt Pom­roy

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page -

Walk around any emi­rate and you will find restau­rants serv­ing al­most ev­ery type of cui­sine but finds a re­cent ad­di­tion to the Dubai din­ing scene, Eshak, of­fer­ing some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent There are new restau­rants open­ing al­most ev­ery day across the coun­try, the vast ma­jor­ity of them of­fer­ing some­thing that al­ready ex­ists else­where, of­ten pre­sented in the form of the now ubiq­ui­tous “shar­ing con­cept”.

In the search of some­thing dif­fer­ent, food­ies have be­gun to get a taste for Uzbek cui­sine, and Eshak is giv­ing the ad­ven­tur­ous a taste of some­thing new.

The menu at the City Walk venue of­fers Uzbek, Ar­me­nian and Ge­or­gian dishes com­monly found along the Silk Road, but it is the Uzbek of­fer­ings that re­ally hit home, pre­sented in what is of­ten re­ferred to as a choy­hona, from the Uzbek words choy, which trans­lates as “tea”, and hona, which means “room”.

“Uzbek food is tra­di­tion­ally all about re­lax­ing and en­joy­ing food and com­pany with friends,” says Mirzo Hafi­zov, Eshak’s di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions. “While in the West peo­ple go to restau­rants to dine and then they hang out in bars, in Uzbek­istan peo­ple go to choy­hona, which is ba­si­cally a tea room.”

Eshak falls some­where be­tween a café and ca­sual din­ing.

“The idea is about hos­pi­tal­ity, wel­com­ing the guest,” says Hafi­zov. “As you en­ter, there are fresh wel­come nuts and dried fruits that we greet our guests with. We’d tra­di­tion­ally have th­ese tea rooms by the rivers – there are lots in Uzbek­istan – and sit there eat­ing, drink­ing and re­lax­ing.”

The restau­rant has proved pop­u­lar with lo­cals.

“About 80 per cent of our cus­tomers are Emi­ratis, 10 per cent are from the for­mer Soviet states, and 10 per cent are ex­pats who live in the area, keen to try some­thing new and dif­fer­ent,” says Hafi­zov.

The most pop­u­lar dishes in­clude lamb manti (home­made dumplings stuffed with lamb, served with sour cream), tandyr samosa (crispy samosa stuffed with lamb and veal spices and cooked in the restau­rant’s tan­door oven), and the tra­di­tional plov, Uzbek­istan’s na­tional dish.

“It’s the dish that makes Uzbek cui­sine what it is,” says Hafi­zov of plov. “It’s both an ev­ery­day and an oc­ca­sion dish. When­ever we have big wed­dings in Uzbek­istan, this is the dish that we usu­ally pre­pare.

“Largely con­sist­ing of rice, meat and fresh car­rots, when you have big events like wed­dings, there can be be­tween 500 and a 1,000 peo­ple, so a chef will pre­pare a plov in a huge pot called a kazan.”

One of the most sig­nif­i­cant things about the food here is that all the in­gre­di­ents are shipped in from Uzbek­istan. Hafi­zov says they are of no­tice­ably bet­ter qual­ity than those found in the UAE.

“The geog­ra­phy of Uzbek­istan means there are lots of val­leys sur­rounded by the moun­tains, and his­tor­i­cally our neigh­bours, such as Kaza­khstan, were more no­madic, whereas Uzbeks were more static, look­ing after the land and cul­ti­vat­ing food,” he says. “So even now, we still pro­duce some of the fresh­est or­ganic fruit and veg­eta­bles. We fly them over to use fresh and even sim­ple things, such as toma­toes or cu­cum­bers, from Uzbek­istan are far su­pe­rior.”

Not only this, says Hafi­zov, but it also makes busi­ness sense as the in­gre­di­ents are cheaper in his home­land.

As well as tra­di­tional Uzbek meals, the in­gre­di­ents are used to make other dishes, such as chak-chak (a Tatar dessert of pas­try with honey) and khacha­puri (a Ge­or­gian recipe of dough made with tra­di­tional Ge­or­gian cheese).

Out­side the restau­rant is a small stall sell­ing some of the fresh in­gre­di­ents flown in from Uzbek­istan, cre­at­ing a fresh- pro­duce mar­ket in City Walk. With sum­mer here, it is mostly sell­ing spices, nuts and dried fruits, but come win­ter, there will be veg­eta­bles and fruit, most notably Uzbek mel­ons. As peo­ple in the UAE be­come even more open to new foods and seek out or­ganic in­gre­di­ents more reg­u­larly, this could prove to be a pop­u­lar venue for lo- cal food­ies. At a time when com­pe­ti­tion among restau­rants is greater than ever, in­no­va­tions like this could be­come more reg­u­lar oc­cur­rences.

“Yes, the vol­ume of restau­rant open­ings is high in the city and you see the trends with lot of sim­i­lar things open­ing all the time,” says Hafi­zov. “But this is some­thing that no­body else has in town.”

art­slife@then­ational.ae

Courtesy Eshak

Clock­wise from above, fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles from Uzbek­istan for sale out­side Eshak restau­rant in Dubai; chakchak; and lamb manti.

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