“ Uzbekistani restaurant in Strasbourg, France. „
~Food Glorious Food - or not~
The French are world famous for their fabulous food and rightly so. Unfortunately the focus on their own local and regional cuisine means that anything a bit 'exotic' - by which I mean not French - tends to be either hard to find or quite expensive and possibly both. Try getting a decent curry in France without spending a fortune and you'll know what I mean. When I went to visit some colleagues in our factory just north of Strasbourg last week they kindly invited me to go out for lunch because they'd not 'booked' food in the factory canteen. We set off to find what one colleague called an "Azyun" restaurant, a Chinesy-Thai place, but it was full and they couldn't let us have a table. Her reserve choice sounded fascinating and was to be my first experience of Uzbekistani food at Les Saveurs de Samarkand in Schiltigheim.
My husband and I had been dithering over booking a trip to Uzbekistan so I was intrigued to see what the food might be like. On the basis of my experience at Les Saveurs de Samarkand, I would say it's a country where I would need a suitcase full of cans of tuna in order to survive. I thought Iranian and Moroccan food was poor for those of us who choose not to eat meat, but the Uzbek food was enough to make me reconsider booking a holiday. We've cancelled our plans for this year - not because of the food but because we've run out of time for visas.
We parked up in the spaces next to a car dealership, clearly marked with signs saying 'Parking for Customers only'. Our driver let out one of those characteristically French "Pouffe" type noises, waved her hand dismissively and strode off down the road. If you want to go to this restaurant, it's worth being aware that parking can be tricky as it's on a busy road. The restaurant is one of the tiniest I've ever been in with no more than four tables. The setting looks more like a small shop than an eating place and the walls are decorated with photos and painting of the homeland and some rather garish embroideries. A group of men at another table had already eaten all of the day's 'special' so we were left to order off the standard menu. The restaurant has no website so I can't check the names of anything that was on offer, though several dishes sounded a lot like the noises made by birds in my garden.
It was quickly apparent that the vegetarian option was to have the meat eaters' food without the meat - there was nothing else except the side dishes that would otherwise accompany their dishes. The owner said that for me she would just do 'more salad'. I could see this was going to be a meal I might not want to repeat in a hurry.
The choices revolve around that great standard of the Middle East and the Silk Road, the kebab. One colleague went for minced meat patties and the other for a 'brochette' of chicken. I went for whatever the chef was willing to give me. We ordered three diet Cokes and a bottle of water. Food came quite quickly - probably just as long as it took to grill the meat - and was delivered without ceremony. The kebab eaters got a nicely balanced plate of meat, rice, salads and bread - I got a mountain of rice and some salad. I was disappointed to not even qualify for a slice of flat bread.
~Oh dear, this isn't my idea of heaven~
My food made me feel slightly queasy. The rice was sticky with bits of finely shredded carrot and a very strange taste. It could have been a little bit of saffron but my main instinct was that it tasted very strongly of lamb fat. I could be wrong - I've not eaten meat in 22 years but my primitive memory said 'Ick, not nice'. Catherine - the colleague who had chosen the place - said later that she thinks the food there is quite light and she likes that the rice tastes as if it has been cooked in a bouillon. Possibly that's the source of the unpleasantly meaty taste but I'm sticking to my fear that it was some kind of nasty animal fat. If I'd been in the UK and if I'd not been with colleagues who'd chosen the place, I would have kicked up a stink but instead I sat and picked at my rice and tried not to think too much about what had been done to it. Alongside the mountain of rice I had a sliced tomato salad which was very good and a mound of shredded carrot with a strange, citrus sauce.
I probably shouldn't have bothered with a pudding but I was hoping that something might lift the dreary sense that a meal in such a great culinary country had been wasted on something pretty yukky. We ordered an Uzbek pastry called something like tchak tchak (see what I mean about the bird calls) which seemed to be the standard. I've since discovered from a bit of googling that this is a popular dessert throughout the 'Stans' although it's interpreted differently in each place. Our tchak tchak was a strange concoction of little bits of pastry - possibly fried, possibly baked -along with some bits of nut and glued together with what tasted like honey. It was a bit like an exploded baklava crossed with a cornflake cake and was tooth-achingly sweet. It was served with a ball of saffron ice-cream and a drizzle of fruit sauce. I was glad I tried it but I wouldn't rush to repeat the experience.
~Cost and Recommendation~
The bill for three of us came to just over 50 euros which I thought was a little expensive for the quality of what we'd had. Admittedly if I'd had a juicy kebab with my rice and salad, I might have felt differently as my two colleagues thought their lunches were lovely.
I feel no urge whatsoever to try Uzbekistani food again.
Les Saveurs de Samarkand
37 Route du General de Gaulle,