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Rice, Kazak style

Updated: 2013-04-10 09:06
By Mike Peters ( China Daily)

Rice, Kazak style

lamb chops with roasted potatoes.[Photo by Mike Peters/China Daily]

A plate of pilaf is just the start of a homestyle Central Asian feast, Mike Peters discovers.

Even in China, it's a little surprising to hear so much fuss about a restaurant's rice dish. But ask anyone who's been to Astana, which lays claim to being Beijing's first Kazak restaurant, and you'll almost certainly get a misty-eyed rave about the pilaf.

Also known as "plov" and "pilau", this hearty rice dish is a staple in most of Central Asia. There are Russian versions, Uzbek versions, Chinese versions from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and a San Francisco version courtesy of Rice-a-Roni.

Astana's robust version has strong hints of cumin and chili and a satisfying amount of tender lamb chunks on top of a platter that goes for an eminently reasonable 35 yuan ($5.60).

Other starchy offerings include fried Kazak bread and the more exotic hychina flatbread, a yummy curiosity soaked in melted cheese.

We'd been advised to try the dumplings as a starter, and found the succulent steamed packages of meat and pumpkin nearly large enough to make a meal on their own. There are meat-only and vegetable-only versions as well.

As befits its location in the capital's hopping Russian district around Ritan Park - and Kazakhstan's real-life proximity to Russia - the restaurant is influenced by the neighborhood.

In fact, Astana plays that like a trump suit, deftly serving up steaming bowls of borscht - the beet soup staple of the Russian heartland - as winsome as any in town.

Rice, Kazak style

Rice, Kazak style

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