There are currently many more Bukharian (or Bukharan) Jews living in Queens than there are in Uzbekistan, the birthplace of Bukharian culture. Many sources estimate that there are 50,000 Bukharian Jews in Queens, and less than 1000 in Uzbekistan (though the largest community, about 150,000, is in Israel). Bukharian Jews were oppressed for centuries in their native land, and emigration seems to have begun as soon as viable Jewish communities in Palestine offered an alternative, and picked up with the collapse of the Soviet Union. They are concentrated in Rego Park and Forest Hills, in an area dubbed ‘Queensistan’ by the New York Times.
Two streets in Queensistan are especially known for their Bukharian restaurants: 108th (‘Bukharian Broadway’) and 63rd Road (sadly lacking an epithet). Cheburechnaya, sitting next to a grocery store and a few doors down from another Bukharian restaurant, is one of the most popular of these restaurants. From the street it looks like a large diner, but the sign mixes the Latin alphabet with Cyrillic and Hebrew.
I first tried to visit Cheburechnaya on Friday night, but they were closed for Shabbat. So were all of the other Bukharian restaurants in the area. Cheburechnaya reopened at 7pm Saturday, and I did not delay, arriving shortly after sundown.
Cheburechnaya has a brightly lit, cafeteria-like space; it is large, but on a Saturday night it is packed. The place is filled with lively conversation. I was hoping to hear a little of the Bukharian language, an old language derived from Persian, but I believe I mostly heard Russian and English.
For my main course, I ordered kebabs—lulya kebab, lamb testicle kebab, and lamb fat kebab. These are not specifically Bukharian; they are Uzbek dishes. Possibly kebabs vary little from place to place anyway—the charred flavor of foods seared by open flame dominates the subtler flavors that distinguish many regional cuisines.
These kebabs were distinctive though. The lamb fat kebab consisted of large cubes of pure fat cut from the meat of the lamb. It was infused with the charred flavor of kebab and some spice. The lamb testicles were actually not charred, but seemed to have been cooked at some distance from the flame. They were tender and surprisingly tasty. The lulya kebab was a bit like sausage, also very good.
The high point of the meal, however, was the appetizer—chebureki with meat. Chebureki are large, flat, empanada-like pouches containing meat or some other filling. The pouch is made of dough lightly fried in oil. The meat inside is mixed with fresh herbs—thyme, rosemary, and perhaps some cumin and onion. These were delicious.
Finally, I had to try an Uzbek dessert: chak chak. Chak chak is fried noodles covered in honey. The fried noodles are airy; they reminded me a little of marshmallow covered Rice Krispie treats. Not bad. They also have baklava; I think next time that is what I’ll be having.
92-09 63rd Drive
Rego Park, NY 11374
Sun – Thurs, 10am-11pm
Sat, 7pm – 1am