28 Bureau Drive
Gaithersburg, MD 20878
From the outset, we have to say that this place is definitely worth a visit. If you are not familiar with Central Asian or particularly Uzbek cuisine, don’t worry. Take our recommendations on the menu selections and you will not be disappointed. You must have an open mind and an adventurous palate. Even for those of us who have traveled to Uzbekistan and Central Asia many times, this food was as authentic as you can get, and it saves a 20-hour flight each way with two layovers!
We don’t often venture across the state border into Maryland, but when we got a tip from a friend about how great the food is at Choyhona Authentic Uzbek Restaurant in Gaithersburg, and when we read on yelp that it has only been open 17 days, we just had to try it. And we were not disappointed. Even those of our friends who were skeptical at first, came around after the first course was served.
For those who want to know, “Choy” means “tea” and “hona” means “hall,” so Choyhona means literally Teahall, but in actuality means “restaurant” in Uzbek and Tajik languages. As one drives across Central Asia, one can see many “choyhonas” along the way, particularly along some of the larger roads, for travelers to stop and rest over a small teapot of black or green tea, have a good solid meal, and chat with others about the goings on of that community. Local families go to choyhonas to have a reliably good homecooked meal.
The owners of this new establishment hail from Samarkand, an ancient city on what was
known as The Silk Road centuries ago, that served as a bustling trade and transport corridor of all things that were basic necessities of life, but also wonderfully exotic, beautiful and delicious. Food preparation in this part has remained a very important tradition. The Uzbeks historically were a tribe of “settlers,” unlike some of their neighboring tribes who were “nomads,” such as the Kyrgyz and Kazakh people. Now all these tribes have become sovereign nations with their own geographical borders and continue their best ancient traditions in modern times.
Samarkand, considered a Tajik city in Uzbekistan because of the large Tajik population and many preservations of Tajik customs, is a peaceful, mysterious, beautiful and special place in the world, seldom visited by tourists in modern times. Registan Square is the most famous, ancient and well-preserved spot in Samarkand, a Muslim city, where Muslims, Jews and Christians have truly lived peacefully side by side since time began. If you come to this restaurant you will see some depictions of Samarkand on the walls painted on hide, as well as some beautifully embroidered fabrics typical of its ancient traditions. The china here – plates, cups and teapots – are also of typical Uzbek white and blue pattern. It is truly a small trip into Uzbekistan without the jetlag and the TSA.
We started our meal with salads and soups. The “Tashkent” salad (named after the capital of Uzbekistan) reminded us of the sopska salad served in the Balkans, made of sliced tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, and onions with a healthy dose of feta cheese on top. The “Lagman” soup was made with homemade egg noodles, beef (although traditionally in Central Asia it is made with horse meat), what looked like green beans (Choyhona’s chef’s tasty invention) in a red spicy sauce. This was prepared in an authentic way, which means it is rather oily, but delicious. We also had a dish of pickled herring and wonderfully prepared potatoes, which was the Russian influence on Uzbek cuisine, and
deliciously prepared at this restaurant. Another wonderful surprise was the Khonim, which was a steamed layered dumpling with beef and a bit of dill, served with sour cream. We also ordered a side of regular French Fries. Although they came out at the very end of our meal, they were friend to perfection and served with a salsa-like home-made spicy dip, which was great, but they also had a bottle of Heinz ketchup on hand. The only disappointment was the bread / naan / “lepioshka,” which was very dry, clearly overbaked, and bland.
Now for the entrees. A must-have is the plov, a Central Asian rice dish, which takes a full work day to cook in a large iron kettle. Although traditionally made with lamb, the more palatable meat for Americans is beef, so here it is made with beef, and it is delicious. Thinly sliced carrots, raisins and garbanzo beans add terrific flavor and texture. Plov must be eaten with a salad called “shakarap,” made of sliced tomatoes and onions, which can be ordered here as a side, and must be eaten together with plov, we cannot stress that enough. The fried pelmeni (also a Russian menu influence) sprinkled with dill were absolutely scrumptious. Ask for sour cream, which will complement the pelmeni.
Not to be missed is the assortment of kebabs. We ordered the salmon kebabs, the shrimp kebabs, and the liver kebabs. Very reasonable prices, which is why we ordered such a large variety. All were grilled and seasoned to utmost perfection. A little squirt of the lemon made them heavenly. Our stomachs seemed to have been transformed into a bottomless abyss because although we all were full after the second course, the deliciousness of the next wave of portions made us unable to stop eating. Yes, this is dangerous, but oh, so good!
There was a large party in the restaurant celebrating a couple’s 10-year anniversary. As the restaurant is a “hall,” basically one large room, the festivities of the party, particularly of the half a dozen toddlers playing loudly with toys on the beautifully-ornate floor rugs, was somewhat distracting. We wish that when we made reservations, we had been told about this. But on the other hand, this is clearly a family-oriented restaurant, where families are welcome, and this is a good thing.
Choyhona is situated in a Giant plaza, and can be easily passed over in favor of those restaurants that are more familiar, such as the Subway next door, the Asian buffet across the lot, or any of the other fast-food establishments in the area. Choyhona is definitely not fast food—it is slow-cooked goodness that is worth a visit!
And by the way, if you're wondering what to order for a gastronomic feast, here are more tips http://www.buzzfeed.com/dianabruk/delicious-uzbek-dishes-you-need-to-try-immediately.