When I came across Robert Sietsema's mini-review of Café Kashkar, I realized that my quest to try as many different regional Chinese cuisines as possible had to include a trip to this restaurant. It ended up including several. Although Brighton Beach is a long way from Manhattan, it's worth the trip now and then for what is essentially home-cooking at marvelously low prices.
Of course, were it not for the vagaries of history, this would not in any sense be a Chinese restaurant at all, and there is indeed nothing overtly Chinese about it. Café Kashkar serves food of the Uyghurs, which is a Turkic ethnic group that comprises almost half the population of Xinjiang, China's westernmost province. Over the centuries, most Uyghurs ended up settling in what is sometimes called East Turkestan, and now comprises the western third of Xinjiang. Kashkar is the westernmost major city of the province. The area has gone in and out of being under Chinese rule, finally ending up as part of China, apparently permanently, in 1949. In the course of my conversation with the lovely fellow serving me on my first visit, the son of the owners, I learned that his parents are Uyghurs from Uzbekistan and, if I remember correctly, Kazakhstan.
In any case, the food at Café Kashkar has much more to do with Russian cuisine than Chinese, with some occasional cross-pollination. Since most Uyghurs are Muslim, the kitchen is halal--no pork! There is a fairly typically Russian selection of salads here; we had a rich, tasty eggplant salad (photos courtesy, once again, of Pete):
Lamb takes center stage here--it's in almost everything. One of the specialties of the house is lagman (notice the similarity to the word "ramen"?), a delicious, hearty noodle soup made with lamb and vegetables. "Hearty" accurately describes a lot of the menu's offerings... this is great cold-weather food.
Fried lagman is essentially Russian fried lo mein, with lamb, vegetables and egg:
Plov (pilaf) is Russian fried rice, with carrots and lamb. I liked this much more than my dining companions did, but I tend to love good fried rice:
Samsa are like baked rolls, filled with seasoned ground lamb--another house specialty:
That is one samsa there, with four parts, and it will set you back $2.50.
Manty are big dumplings filled with... your guessed it... lamb. We got ours fried:
Another cognate: manty is awfully similar to the Korean word for dumplings, mandoo. I'm crazy about the seasoning of their lamb filling. There are sauteed onions in there, and a subtle blend of spices I can't quite identify.
To complete the triumvirate of lamb-filled dough creations, we had to try the gusht nan, too. Anyone familiar with Indian food ought be able to form an idea what this is--a baked, lamb-filled flat-bread:
I suppose it is possible to overdose on lamb here... luckily, they have a selection of kebabs to add a bit of variety (and none more than $4.00): chicken, ground beef (lyulya), liver, veal, and, of course, lamb. The lamb rib kebab is really pretty great, I have to say--seen here with chicken:
Tender, juicy, and expertly grilled.
They had exactly one dessert the night we asked: homemade chak-chak. It's like a Rice Krispy treat made with fried noodles, and it's good:
1141 Brighton Beach Ave., Brooklyn 11235
(B or Q train to Brighton Beach, then 7 blocks east on Brighton Beach Ave.)