A First Taste of Uzbek Cuisine @ Gulnaz Restaurant & Cafe

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Gulnaz Restaurant Dubai

Happy 2012 everyone!

It’s a new year and although I hardly ever make new year resolutions these days (because they’ve been the same year after year so why bother?), I do have one for 2012 and that is to clear out all some of my draft posts.

I often come up with all these great ideas for a blog post and then a few days later, the ideas fizzle out and either don’t seem so great anymore or I stare and stare at a draft post until I give up on it for lack of creativity or interest. Does that happen to you?

So all these draft posts have been nagging at me and I hate being nagged at – I mean, who likes being nagged? It’s such an awful sounding word too.

And as I often do when I’m being n-a-g-g-e-d at, I procrastinate. So 2012 resolution: Stop procrastinating. Stop feigning writer’s block. Stop over-analyzing each post so much. JUST WRITE.

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Some of the drafts I’d like to clear out are posts from my girls’ dinner club. As mentioned in my July 2008 post about “Eating Out for Under 100 Dirhams,” my girl friends and I meet bimonthly to sample restaurants around town. It’s not only an opportunity to discover new (and old) Dubai dining options, but it’s also a time for us to catch up on each other’s lives.

Since the start of this eating adventure back in March 2008, we’ve visited over 80 restaurants. Now, no way am I going to write up 80 retrospective restaurant reviews where 90% of the time I can’t even remember what I ordered or took any pictures BUT I will try to write about some of the highlights and try to be more diligent about posting future eats.

Let’s start with a restaurant called Gulnaz Restaurant & Cafe located in Dubai Marina by Jumeirah Beach Residences.

Gulnaz Restaurant Dubai

We had a very small dinner party of three when we visited a few months ago which was a shame as there were so many things on the menu that we’d never had before and were we a larger group – we could have tried them all (insert diabolical laugh)!

But, that didn’t stop us from ordering as much as we could yet stay within our 100 dirham (US $27) per person budget and stuff ourselves silly in the process.

Gulnaz serves Uzbek, Kazakh, Russian and Korean dishes. Oh yes, there was definitely Korean in there like kimchi, morkovcha (korean carrot salad), and kuksi (korean cold soup with rice noodles and beef). I was intrigued so I asked our friendly waiter the reason behind the Korean dishes and he told us that they have lots of Koreans in Uzbekistan. Interesting.

It was mid-November so it was nice enough to sit outside but as the restaurant is located on the main road, we decided not to breathe in polluted car fumes and opted instead to sit inside at one of raised, cushiony booths with privacy curtains – I’m sure there is a proper term for this but I can’t remember it right now. Each table even had a call button to summon the wait staff – something I’ve only seen in Korean restaurants until now.

gulnaz seating

The Gulnaz menu says “artistically painted walls and plush interiors provides a warm and relaxing ambience. Come and enjoy best of plov, beshbarmak, pre-ordered meals in Qazan pots or bread and samsa from tandir, all prepared in traditional firewood way.”

Is it just me or all those exotic words (well, exotic to me, anyway) make it seem like there was going to be gooood food ahead?

The restaurant was fairly empty when we arrived early in the evening but we were warmly greeted by the staff and our waiter was extremely friendly, very patient, and quite helpful in explaining the variety of dishes to us. I did have to suppress a few giggles every time he used the words “very tasty.”

As we looked through the menu we passed on some of the well-known dishes like borst and chicken Kiev and opted instead for the unfamiliar.

Besides water, we ordered Urik Sharbat which, maybe it’s just me, made me think of sherbert and non-alcoholic punch and thus baby showers but is actually a drink made from dried apricots. And that’s what it tasted like too – sweet, syrupy, apricot juice.

STARTERS

For starters we ordered Tandir Samsa (20 dhs) which was described as a “delicious samsa stuffed with lamb, baked in Tandir oven with firewood.” The accompanying dipping sauce was made with some combination of tomatoes, herbs like dill and coriander, and garlic.

Tandir Samsa
Tandir Samsa

The samsa had a firm crust, and I wish we had ordered more because it was certainly “very tasty.”

Tandir Samsa 2

Next we had Blinchick (20 dhs) which were “Russian pancakes with beef and mushrooms.” The waiter asked if we wanted ours to be stuffed with beef or mushrooms, and we all agreed, “both!”

I would describe this as similar to a crepe and the filling was just lovely as the mushrooms weren’t there as background singers to be ignored but really took center stage along with the beef. Our taste buds were singing happily and we were excitedly anticipating the next dishes that were in store for us.

Blinchick
Blinchick

Next we ordered the Olivie (28 dhs) because it was hard not to when it’s described as “famous.” It was a “famous Russian salad, composed of diced potatoes, vegetables and meat, all bound in mayonnaise.”

Another simple yet well-prepared dish that was full of flavor (gotta love mayonnaise) and I loved the tang from the diced pickles. Kind of reminded me of a German potato salad (except without the ham which would have made it even better!).

Olivie salad
Olivie salad

I have to say that I really wanted to order Kimchi after seeing it on the menu. I mean, I was seriously craving it and surprised I haven’t bought any from the supermarket yet. Maybe I’ll make my own. I did wonder if the Gulnaz kimchi would be authentic or Uzbek-fusion…

SOUP

We decided to try out one of the soups and ordered Pelmeni (28 dhs) described as “Russian, homemade dumplings filled with beef in a clear soup.” If I hadn’t known that the filling was beef, I would have thought that it was lamb as both the dumplings and the soup seemed to be overpowering with lamb flavor. Probably my least favorite dish of the night.

Having said that though, I did enjoy it better the next day as leftovers. Perhaps the flavors mellowed?

Pelmeni soup
Pelmeni soup

MAINS

This Plov “Bayram” (54 dhs), “pride of Uzbek cuisine…made of rice, yellow carrots and lamb cooked in Qazan pot using firewood.”

Yellow carrots? I’ve never had yellow carrots, I don’t think, and tonight wasn’t going to be yellow carrot night either unless yellow carrots turn orange when cooked.

Similar to biryani, this wasn’t a bit hit for me. I didn’t find the flavors interesting and despised the chick peas (but that’s just me, I hate chick peas).

Plov Bayram
Plov Bayram

Now the most-awesome-dish-of-the-night award goes to Qovurma Lagman (34 dhs) which is “fried homemade noodles with tomato sauce and ground meat.” Something this good deserves the initials, OMG.

Now with a Chinese background, I was probably biased towards this dish from the start. I would describe it as a spicy noodle stir-fry with, dare I say “very tasty” sauce, which the home-made noodles perfectly soaked up. As I am typing this, I think that I am going to have to order some for take-out…like right now.

Qovurma Lagman
Qovurma (Fried) Lagman

Moving on from thoughts of googling a recipe for the Qovurma Lagman which according to Google search results call also be spelled Kavurma Lagman

Our final dish of the evenig was Manti (44 dhs) which were four “delicious large dumplings with meat / pumpkin.”

Manti 2
Manti

I enjoyed the first couple of bites but then something become too much for me – wasn’t sure if it was cumin or coriander powder – but I gave some to Wee Scotch the next day for lunch and he didn’t seemed bothered at all. He’s such a good eater.

Manti

BREAD

We ordered Lepeshka (10dhs) which is “freshly baked Uzbek bread from tandir oven.” Um, I don’t remember any specifics on this but sometimes to me, bread is…well, just bread.

Lepeshka
Lepeshka

I hope I haven’t offended any bread afficionados out there with my last statement! And if anyone is still reading at this point then let me ask you this:

Have you ever gotten a little carried away at a foreign restaurant where everything seems so new and exotic and you flag down the waiter to determine the contents of the pretty bowl of spice that has been sitting on your table the whole night, only to be feel like a doofus when he says, “That is black pepper, and that is white pepper.” Doh!

Our final order of the night was Uzbek Green Tea in a Tea Pot (15 dhs). Our nice waiter got into food styling mode and purposely placed the teacups like so:

Gulnaz Restaurant Dubai

Have you noticed that all the crockery is very distinctive and floral and I forgot to ask the waiter if they were imported from and made in Uzbekistan. I must remember to ask next time…

Having sat comfortably crossed-leg for most of dinner, I was so stuffed I could have just laid down on the soft cushions and gone to bed. Maybe no one would notice if we drew the curtains around our table?

Well, since there were so many things on the menu that I’d love to try and since I haven’t had lunch yet and since Wee Scotch is just about to wake up from his afternoon nap, I think today would be the perfect opportunity for the two of us to take a walk down the road and order some kimchi and Qovurma Lagman for lunch, and whatever else I think my husband, Scotch, would want for dinner tonight 😉 .

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Post-Lunch Update a Few Hours Later: Wee Scotch and I ended up at Gulnaz for a late lunch today as soon as the above was posted. Halfway there I realized I had forgotten my camera but my iPhone cam saved the day.

I decided to sit outside on the terrace so that my son could run around while we waited for the food to arrive but instantly regretted it as there was a faint odor of garbage coming from a garbage skip across the street and upwind from us – nothing the restaurant could do anything about, I guess. But I decided to brave that and hold my breath instead of sitting indoors and cooping up a hyper-active 2-year old.

Since the last time I was at the restaurant, there were already some changes in the menu. The menu itself was now a proper faux-leather bound one instead of a stapled booklet with prices written on stickers.

Fried Lagman with Kimchi
Fried Lagman (bottom right) and Kimchi (top left)

Disappointingly, the one dish I was craving was also completely changed. Now described as “handmade noodles, stir-fried with tomato paste and beef, sprinkled fresh herbs and egg omelet” the Qovurma (Fried) Lagman was no longer moist, spicy, nor “very tasty”.

Overall, the dish was very dry, noodles included, and the egg omelet didn’t do anything for the dish except add a bit of visual appeal. The beef even had an odd aftertaste. I much preferred the version I had the first time around.

Wee Scotch enjoying the Fried Lagman
Wee Scotch tasting the Fried Lagman

I also ordered Arabic chicken wings (I love wings!) and was not disappointed – they were crispy on the outside yet moist on the inside, and simply flavored to allow the flavors of the chicken shine. There was no accompanying sauce, which was okay with me as the wings were so good, just a simple garnish of sliced tomato, cucumber and lemon.

I had to order the kimchi as I was curious to see how it would taste at an Uzbek restaurant. I was severely disappointed here as well. The kimchi was so over-salted that I couldn’t taste anything else. I do have a sensitivity to salt so I had the waiter wrap it up for me and I had Scotch taste it when he came home form work. Now my husband has an affinity to salt and likes to put extra salt on his food but even he found the Gulnaz kimchi too salty.

Such a shame about the food on the second visit but restaurant quality in Dubai is often hit or miss so no big surprise here. I would still go back though to try the un-tried things on the menu.

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Gulnaz Restaurant and Cafe, +971 (04) 453 4887 for reservations and delivery; located in Dubai Marina on Al Sufouh Road on the ground floor of The Point building across the street from JBR – Amwaj sector; Facebook Page.

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15 Comments

  1. I came back to hunt this post down so I could comment! I was there just a few hours back, and when I entered, I remembered you’d blogged about it 🙂
    We ordered the same drink, the lepeshka, the lagman and the plov (just two of us, or else I think we’d have ordered more!). I loved the drink. The bread smelled so so so good but it tasted of nothing, but when dipped in the broth from the lagman, I think it acquired a flavour of its own. The lagman was good, but I actually loved the plov more. The meat was really good and I enjoyed the mild flavour of it. I think I’d order the plov again when I return. When…not if.
    Ooooh I was cross-legged too!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I think since the plov seemed similar to biryani (or so it seemed to me) fans of biryani would enjoy the plov. I’d like to go back and try the Lagman again – maybe even today!

  2. Dear Ginger, thanks for this post and for beautiful pictures, i believe this post was read by many and infact i heard about it from a our clients, after reading it my self decided to make some changes. We Now combined Two type of lagmans and it became Unique And tasty, we would like you to come and try:-) PS. Kimchi was salty just that one now its better too!

    1. Thank you so much for leaving a comment.

      I will be sure to stop by the restaurant again – there are still so many things on the menu that I would like to try.

  3. I would love to try that Olivie salad. It looks really good and healthy. Thanks for the list. I bet you had a great time with the food. I will try the place when i get the opportunity.

  4. Hi, searching for an online menu came across your blog, what a beautiful pictures, it is really nice to read nice comments about our cuisine, honestly i more liked the new lagman because its what i use to eat in Tashkent, but i also liked the old version just thougth it was too oily for me, its funny i even left a note on their comment card asking if they could cook like in Tashkent and they started few weeks after, (i start thinking is it only or maybe others has asked he same question) you should try the lagman which is in soups, its not really a soup for me cause its too much for a soup but gosh i love it and my coworkers (foreighners) crazy about it. Sad kuksi has dissapered from the menu!

    1. Yes, the first lagman I had was a bit oily as the photo also shows. But it had so much more flavor!

      I think the new version of the fried lagman just needed a little more sauce and maybe a better quality beef. I would love to try the soup version next time I am there.

      Maybe the Korean dishes weren't very popular so they took the kuksi off? The kimchi also wasn't listed either on the new menu but there was a huge photo of it so I asked the waiter and he said that they were still serving it.

  5. I agree with didi; it does look like a proper mix of arabic and oriental. Also like most restaurants in Dubai, its a shame that they start out with such flare and immense authenticity and then it only takes a few months for them to fizzle down to your corner street "cafeteria" of sorts.

    I loved the pic of wee scotch and his bib!! sooo cute

    happy 2012

  6. This looks like a fun meal! I have a real weakness for stuffed/wrapped foodstuffs and this looks like exactly the sort of meal I would have ordered. There used to be a Uzbeki place near my parents' house, and I regret never trying it before it closed. Glad you took advantage of the opportunity for adventure!

  7. This post made me realize how much different cuisines are similar to others 🙂 Uzbekistan cuisine looks like a mix of Oriental and Arabic influence. It’s really a small world after all. Happy New Year Sandy!

  8. Great post! I really enjoyed reading it. Everything looks "very tasty" and interesting. Those tea pot and cups and pepper bowls are just so adorable. Interesting they serve Korean dishes. I love to travel but don't get to do as much. So I am envious of you being able to live in a foreign country. Must be nice. Enjoy! Have a happy, healthy and delicious 2012!