Exploring strip malls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in search of the city's best international food

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sizzling dishes from Central Asia


Former U.S. presidential candidate Herman Cain lampooned his lack of familiarity with the central Asian country of Uzbekistan. "If someone asks me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan I'm going to say I don't know," he quipped during his short-lived run for office. 

However, if Cain makes it to Toronto, he'll have a chance to educate himself on the culture and food of Uzbekistan by visiting North York's Tashkent restaurant near Keele and Steeles. Tashkent, named after the Uzbek capital city, is tucked into a strip mall in an industrial area between an adult video store and a licensed massage parlour. 


The restaurant is a central meeting place for Toronto's Uzbek community, which is based in Thornhill.  Interesting fact: Uzbekistan is a rare doubly landlocked country, meaning that it doesn't have access to the ocean, and neither do any of its neighbours. 

I started out with an order of manti, the classic Uzbek steamed lamb dumplings (below). They're big and stretchy, and a patron implores me to abandon my clumsy attempt to eat them with a knife and fork in favour of my hands. "This type of food you eat with your fingers," she tells me. 

Next up is samsa (above), a steaming baked pastry filled with lamb meat. The crust is delicate and flakey, but it's the tangy tomato herb sauce makes this memorable. 

Dgiz-biz (below) is a meat-heavy entree of lamb and beef meat, fat and bone, slow cooked until wonderfully tender in its own juices. It's served inside a bowl made of crisp Uzbek bread, which somehow resembles a taco salad bowl. Eating the dill-infused hot chunks of flesh is very satisfying.

It's not uncommon to have many lamb dishes in one sitting. "A typical meal might be eight courses of lamb," explains the server Vlada. "There will even be lamb in the salad. There's a lot of fried food and everything's made from scratch."

Vlada (below) is originally from Kazakhstan (which borders on Uzbekistan) and she was delighted to discover Tashkent when she recently moved to Toronto from Hamilton. "I was so happy to find the taste of home."

Tashkent Restaurant, 800 Petrolia Road, Toronto. Tel: 416 667 0737. Hours are Monday noon to 10pm; Tuesday closed; Wed & Thurs, noon to 10pm; Friday & Saturday, noon to midnight; Sunday noon til 11pm. 

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  1. thanks for sharing!

  2. Lamb dumplings really taste good. What is the dressing?

  3. As of today, Sept 12, 2013 the restaurant is closed. We went there today and discovered this. Apparently it is going to open in a new place. We are not sure, but the new place might be just take-out. We're sorry we missed tasting the food. It sounded and looked so delicious.

    1. Thanks for the update. I just phoned to confirm the closure. Too bad! If anyone has updates on a new space, please let me know.

  4. Uzbek pilav (Rice, Biryani is mostly the same) is the best tasty rice in the world and it is also the most famous dish in Central Asia including Afghanistan and Turkey.