I'm taking a break from the Korea/Japan posts to talk about a dish that I came across in Brooklyn, New York. Kuksi is Uzbek Korean food. Yes, you read that correctly. Korea + Uzbekistan.
During the mid/late 19th century, Korean people went to the Russian border in search of land and livelihoods. They called (and still call) themselves “Koryo Saram” which means “Korean person,” though its an antiquated term not really used by Korean people elsewhere. Anyways, they began to form a very large population there but in the 1930s, the majority of them were deported to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in what was the first case of ethnic cleansing by the Soviet Union.
These people made Korean food but had to adjust for local tastes and produce availability. Over time, it evolved into its own thing. And thus, you get Uzbek-Korean food. Kuksi is one such dish. The word “kuksi” is derived from “guksu,” one of the Korean words for “noodles.” As such, it’s a cold noodle soup that has lots of cucumber, cabbage, beef, and egg. It’s not like the naengmyeon from my previous post though. The broth was sweet and tangy, somewhat similar to another Korean dish, a cold cucumber seaweed soup (오이미역냉국). It was an interesting experience, eating a dish born of much pain and suffering.
Actually, eating at Cafe Lily in general was an interesting experience. When I entered the restaurant, a narrow, fairly minimally-decorated room, I was greeted by a middle-aged woman who looked as if she could be one of my mom’s friends. Whenever I go to a restaurant where the owner is Korean, I feel the need to insa—to greet—them in Korean. And I felt the same way here…except the owner spoke to me first. In English. With a Russian accent. She spoke to her son and employees in Russian and you could see and hear Russian music videos playing on a TV mounted at the back of the restaurant. It was surreal.