Jibek jolu Review: Jibek Jolu in Chicago

Jibek jolu Review: Jibek Jolu in Chicago

Guest Post! Jonathan is back with another tale from Chicago. Kyrgyz food looks interesting. I don’t even know if we have that here in NY… but read on for the delicious tale!

I had to look on a map to find Kyrgyzstan. Actually, I first had to find out how to spell it, before I could find the central Asian country officially known as the Kyrgyz Republic. As I had guessed (clearly), it is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east. So much work before heading off to a restaurant! It was like homework. But I had to know a little about what I was about to eat.

When I first heard about Jibek Jolu – Chicago’s first Kyrgyz restaurant, I immediately thought it was the perfect place to get away from the daily grind. Talk about escapist dining. What could be more exciting? A few friends, Grace and I made our way to Lincoln Square not quite sure what to expect.

The restaurant is a small room filled with about 8-10 tables. The red walls are sparsely covered with a few cultural items. Above the counter are pictures of some classic Kyrgyz cuisine. We sat down and quickly looked at the menu, and attempted to order everything.

The meal began with a cup of airan, a tart yogurt drink much like a lassi. We had 4 soups, many gently kissed with sour cream: solyanka, borsh, shorpa and pelmeni. The solyanka appeared like a fairly straightforward one, but in addition to the taste of beef, sausage and potatoes, the soup had an intriguing pungent flavor of olives.

The borsh was a bright red with hints of sweetness from the beet and cabbage.

The most surprising was the pelmeni – a soup of clear broth filled with small bite-sized dumplings stuffed with beef and onion. The broth had a clean salinity with a background of butter.

Next came a pair of meat-filled items, the samsy and the manty, both a nice change of pace after the soups. Samsy are oven-baked pies (more like buns) stuffed with chopped lamb, potatoes and onion, which were tasty and vaguely reminiscent of meat pies all across Asia and Europe. While the filling was nice, it’s the soft bread exterior that is really the star of the samsy.

The manty are steamed dumplings stuffed with freshly chopped beef, onion and (surprise) pumpkin. The dumpling skin is a lot like a pierogi while the filling alludes to a more eastern style dumpling.

For entrees we had a rice and a noodle dish. The plov was a buttery rice dish with lamb, carrots and onions. It had a nice full lamb flavor, but was like many other lamb and rice dishes I’ve had before.

But the lagman was something very different. Lagman is handmade noodles covered in a stew of lamb, garlic, daikon, tomatoes and peppers. The noodles were light and chewy. These slippery noodles were gently bathed in a wholesome lamb stew. The stew acts like a sauce for the ever so polished noodles.

For dessert, we had a bite of baklava and small apple pie (more like a mini strudel). The baklava had the mild flavor of cashews rather than pistachios and made for a nice finish to the meal.

I’m not sure how to describe Kyrgyz food. It certainly is a product of the silk road. The food shows elements of Chinese, eastern European, Indian, and a many others. I am, however, very glad that the Bilimbekov family decided to open Jibek Jolu and that Chicago has some great authentic Kyrgyz cuisine.

Jibek jolu5047 N Lincoln Ave.Chicago, NY 60625773-878-8494

Posted by Danny on February 18, 2010 at 8:49 pm

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