Austin in a Pocket: UZeat
Try typical Uzbek dishes made with meats and grains like manti, the restaurant’s steamed dumplings filled with lamb, beef or vegetables
By Regine Malibiran
Photographs by Mackenzie Smith Kelley
As the first Uzbek restaurant in Austin, UZeat, located in Northwest Austin (at 8650 Spicewood Springs Road), serves up some of the tastiest dishes from Uzbekistan and aims to share its culture with fellow Austinites.
While the Silk Road was an active route for trade and transportation (between approximately 200 BC to 100 AD), Uzbekistan in Central Asia was a gateway that connected major roads between the East and West. Because of its location, Uzbek food is influenced by a wide array of cuisines, from Turkish to Mongolian to Persian. The country has rich farmland, which has provided a foundation for agriculture and cattle-raising for centuries.
Meat and grains are pillars in Uzbek cuisine and no meal is complete without a pot of tea. Since opening UZeat in January 2018, the owners have tweaked their recipes to merge traditional Uzbek food with Texan proclivities. For example, manti, which are palm-sized steamed dumplings, are traditionally served with sour cream. At UZeat, they’ve added hot sauce to the plate. They serve beef, lamb or vegetable manti. The head chef is mindful of common dietary restrictions, so no one has an excuse not to try Uzbek food.
The owners at UZeat love introducing diners to Uzbek cuisine. “[The customers] are always so happy,” the head chef. “They always compliment the dishes on how good they smell, take pictures and post on social media. They love to ask questions about what the dishes are called and how they’re cooked. It really balances out all the hard work of cooking.”
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One of the most popular dishes on their menu is palov. UZeat calls this dish “the king of Uzbek cuisine” as it shows off the country’s strengths in agriculture. Also known as pilaf, it’s made with rice, carrots, onions and lamb meat and slathered in melted lamb tail fat. Every region in Uzbekistan has their own unique way of preparing the dish. UZeat serves a lighter option by using less oil and fat.
The owners at UZeat are passionate about sharing Uzbek culture with their diners. The restaurant is decorated with displays of traditional Uzbek dress and textiles. The walls are painted in bright colors and hold pictures of historical sites in the homeland. The dining tables are all adorned with Uzbek silks and the tea and porcelain cups and kettles were all shipped from Uzbekistan. From their food to their decor to the documentaries playing on the restaurant’s screens, the atmosphere feels like a pocket of Uzbekistan in Austin.
“We have regular customers that get the same thing all the time. They don’t have to open the menu. They know what to order,” the head chef says. Some of UZeat’s regulars keep coming back because they feel like they’re back home.
As their business grows, the restaurant owners want to be known for bringing Uzbek food and culture to Austin with a lot of care and intention. From the Uzbekistan native missing food from their homeland to someone who has to Google “shashlik” (the chef’s favorite on the menu), there is something on UZeat’s menu for everyone.
The World in a Pocket is dedicated to exploring the world through the lens of a dumpling. From mandu to empanadas, spanakopita to gyoza, pierogi to Pop-Tarts, this is our love letter to pockets worldwide and the stories they tell. These beloved staples all share a similar food-inside-of-food structure, while providing a delicious way to understand our world. We are excited to bring TRIBEZA readers Austin in a Pocket, where Regine Malibiran has teamed up with TWIP co-founder and photographer Mackenzie Smith Kelley to shine a light on local pocket makers.