Monday, August 3, 2015

Tajikistan: Who Knew? or Suburban Intrigue

I will admit that not much came to mind when I initially thought of Tajik cuisine. Hunks of meat? Russian mayonnaisey salads? The food they serve at the Uzbek place I like? I was excited to find two Tajik options in the DC area. For better or worse, Samovar a Russian-seeming restaurant with Tajik owners was scheduled to open in Rockville in July, but doesn't seem to have actually managed to open yet. Luckily, Tajik-Tartar Food was able to fulfill our Tajik dreams. I was hesitant at first because nothing really jumped out at me on the menu, which seemed very Russian (for a good reason, I know) and too wintery for July. A little google research peaked my interest in Tajikistan's national dish, qurotub - a dish of stale bread, a yogurt-type sauce, sautéed onions, and vegetables and/or lamb. I am a sucker for all things involving stale bread and yogurt, so I emailed to ask if they might be able to make qurotub even though it isn't listed on their menu (it should be!). "Of course," they replied. A few emails back and forth and off I went to Vienna (the one in Virginia) to pick up a qurotub dinner (note: they will deliver for a fee).

The transaction was quite mysterious (in a totally safe, suburban kind of way) -- I waited in front of an apartment building, texting with a nameless Tajik someone who said that Svetlana would be down soon with my qurotub, but she didn't speak much English so I was just to hand over the cash (Tajik-Tartar Foods has a $50 minimun). Svetlana, a grandmotherly type appeared a few minutes later with a little girl and a shopping bag containing my dinner. We made the transaction, exchanged a few simple pleasantries, and I was off. My nameless Tajik contact texted me instructions on how to assemble the dish (less it get too soggy in transit): I heated the bread (or fatir, a flatbread layered (traditionally) with lamb fat giving it a very nice, flaky quality (rustic croissant is a stretch, but...  which was clearly homemade) and the yogurt sauce (traditionally made from qurut, a dried salted yogurt, but here I think the sauce was made from fresh yogurt (a decent substitute from what I understand)). I followed the instructions on my phone, tearing the warm bread with my hands, not cutting it with a knife! Then, layered the bread with sautéed onions, sauce, and a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, and dill. Qurotub is traditionally served in a communal bowl (Tajik-Tartar Foods wanted to plate mine on "national wooden Tajik plate," which would have surely added to the experience, but I didn't really want to drive back to Vienna to return it) and eaten with one's hands (we are heathens and used forks). Despite our improper serving vessel and utensils, this was a seriously delicious dish that managed to scoot Tajikistan onto the long list of countries I'd like to visit. The fatir has real heft and flavor (lamb fat!?), that made a dish built around stale bread feel like a celebratory meal. (It was also delicious (and not at all soggy the way pita would be) in my lunch the next day. 

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