Central Asian Comfort Food in Chicago
You’ve probably heard me say that you can understand the history of a country and its people by looking at its food. No where is this more true than the countries of Central Asia, where the Silk Road impacted all parts of culture. Dive into the meat-centric culinary traditions of Kyrgyzstan, and you’ll find a fascinating confluence of Chinese, Russian, Turkish, Afghani and Indian influences. It’s a cuisine often overlooked in the United States, so I was pleasantly surprised when my cab driver Rashid took me to Jibek Jolu, the first Kyrgyz restaurant in Chicago. An unassuming small restaurant near downtown, Jibek Jolu (which means Silk Road in Kyrgyz) has a lengthy menu of scratch-made Central Asian specialties. The nuances of each dish speak to Kyrgyzstan’s location along the famous trade route. There’s pelmeni, which are steamed dumplings filled with onions and beef that can be found everywhere in Russia. Lagman is a dish native to the Uyghur people of Western China, made of beef, vegetables and beautiful hand-pulled noodles. We tried pan-fried manty, traditional Kyrgyz dumplings stuffed with succulent beef and caramelized onions. Popular all over Central Asia, chebureki are giant pan-fried dumplings filled with ground beef and lamb, similar to an empanada. Just more proof that dumplings are comfort food in every culture.
351 West Oak Street
Chicago, IL 60610
Photograph by Devan Grimsrud.