Thursday, March 17, 2016

Navruz Celebration at Silk Road

Something cool is happening this weekend at Silk Road Bistro in Pikesville. They're celebrating Spring, in a way that's both ancient and completely new to me.

One of my favorite dinners of all of last year was at Silk Road, which is an Uzbek restaurant on Reisterstown. We dined there on a Thursday, during a belly dancing show, and from start to finish, the meal was fun, festive and so delicious.

Uzbek cuisine is interesting - the country is at the crossroads of the East and West and it shows. The food feels both Russian and Middle Eastern - even Indian, sometimes - but really, it's its own thing. The country has a unique culture that comes from its double-landlocked position on the Silk Road, the ancient East-West trade route, and that's on display in its traditional dishes.

This coming Sunday, March 20th, eating at Silk Road will be even more exciting than usual, when the restaurant hosts its annual Navruz celebration.

Navruz, which is translated as "New Day," coincides with the first day of spring (this year, March 21st). Silk Road will celebrate with a special, traditional dish, halisa, served at 8 a.m. on Sunday the 20th.

"It's a meat porridge that is cooked for twelve to fifteen hours," explains Silk Road manager Shahboz Eshpulatov. "People start coming to the restaurant around 6 p.m. on Saturday. That's when all the meat will be placed in a giant pot, approximately 100 pounds, and cooked all night until about 3 a.m."

This video shows halisa being made, at Silk Road's 2012 celebration (in their old space):

Halisa is the centerpiece, but Navruz is mostly about people getting together to carry on traditions, says Eshpulatov. "Every neighborhood and family celebrates this holiday in Uzbekistan. In order for our people not to forget their traditions and for their children to be familiar with the traditions, we make this event at the restaurant free of charge for anyone who wishes to attend."

On Sunday morning, most of the Uzbek celebrants (and chefs) will likely be men, says Eshpulatov. "Women also have a dish they prepare during Navruz celebrations," he says. "It is called sumalak. Our wives are planning to cook it sometime during the month of March."

Navruz celebrations will happen up and down the East Coast this week and people will travel from one city to another - it's a tight knit community on a national scale. On Sunday at Silk road, there will be some Uzbek-Americans from Philadelphia, New York and Florida in attendance and Monday, a small group of Uzbekis from Baltimore will head up to Philadelphia for a party there.

Here in Baltimore, the Uzbek community is small, but part of what I loved so much about eating at Silk Road is that you could feel its strength. These are people who love each other, and the traditions of their home country, so much.

When we dined at Silk Road, back in June of last year, the restaurant was packed and every table around us was filled with multi-generational families talking and laughing and drinking vodka and generally enjoying the food, the belly dancing, and each other. Their spirit was infectious.

If they approach the new spring season with anything near the zest they had for a random Thursday night in June, then 1004 Reisterstown Road is sure to be the most fun place in the Baltimore area next Sunday morning.

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