Brighton Beach remains one of Brooklyn’s best neighborhoods for a food crawl—if you know where to go. A diaspora of immigrants from former Soviet Republics like Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan has created a largely accidental fusion movement driven not by the desire to invent the next big cuisine, but by a natural need to preserve their national identities and culture through food.
The result is a beachside cluster of restaurants and tiny cafés serving some of the most unique and delicious “fusion” cuisines you may never have tasted before.
Cafe at Your Mother-in-Law
During the Stalin era, thousands of Russia’s ethnic Koreans were forcibly relocated from far-east Russia to Central Asia. Eighty years later, Cafe at Your Mother-in-Law retells this history lesson through its distinct Korean-Uzbek cuisine. The bulk of the menu is salads, which includes Korean carrot salad on one end of the spectrum and classic Russian Olivier salad on the other, while main courses offer the perfect canvas for intercultural flavor medleys, like chicken tabaka and spicy chicken wings.
Known for its authentic uyghur cuisine, an intoxicating blend of Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Chinese flavors, Cafe Kashkar serves hefty bowls of hand-pulled noodles swimming in chile-oiled broth, almost identical to the offerings at Xi’an Famous Foods. One look at the café’s manty appetizer and you’ll swear you were looking at a plate of Chinese soup dumplings. However, the Uyghur people will assure you that their cuisine is entirely their own, perhaps the hallmark of a truly successful fusion.
Brighton Beach has no shortage of tiny Central Asian eateries, but few will satisfy the dumpling and pierogi lover quite like Varenichnaya. There are roughly ten different varieties of pelmeni (Russian-style dumplings) and vareniki (pierogis), both savory and sweet, on its extensive menu, which also offers Uzbekian-style pilaf and sturgeon kebabs.
While East Asian influences in Central Asian and Russian cuisine makes sense because of geography, Anyway Cafe’s signature Russian-French fare makes sense simply because of taste. Enjoy smoked trout roulade alongside buttery crepes served with savory caviar, and be sure to sample a few shots of the café’s many infused vodkas, ranging in flavor from lychee to horseradish.
It’s no secret that Russians love their sushi, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when some traditional Russian establishments sneak Japanese-influenced items into their menu. Oleandr pays such homage by serving kani salad next to pelmeni and eel with avocado alongside beef stroganoff. It may not be conventional, or cohesive, but it’s from the heart, and that’s what counts.