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  • A silk road trip: Central Asian food comes to Berlin

Plov, manti and more

A silk road trip: Central Asian food comes to Berlin

Never tried plov, manti or laghman? A new wave of Central Asian restaurants are bringing delicious flavours from the silk road.

Photo: Dervish

For reasons that should be obvious, the former USSR has always maintained a significant presence in the Berlin food scene.

At first, it was the Russians, bringing blini and pelmeni to the hungry denizens of Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain. Later, Georgia became all the rage, as a flurry of openings from the Caucasus country taught us how to tell khinkali from khachapuri. And since the invasion of Ukraine, borscht and vareniki have become sought after, both by homesick refugees and solidarity-minded locals.

What are we missing? Look south(east), for plov and manti have entered the chat. These are but two of the culinary trademarks of Central Asia, the ancient Silk Road hub that now comprises five ex-Soviet countries whose names end in ‘stan’.

The deceptively humble-looking plateful of rice is positively packed with flavour

Over the centuries, traders from China, India, Persia and the Ottoman Empire all passed through, each leaving their mark on the regional cuisine. The resulting rice- and dough-based dishes appear simple but are tough to recreate without access to the right ingredients – although that hasn’t stopped the most recent crop of restaurateurs from trying.


Anvar, the owner of Plove, gave us a rundown of the challenges involved in transplanting plov (aka pilaf) from his native Kyrgyzstan to Berlin.

Plov, a deceptively humble-looking plateful of rice. Photo: Jane Silver

The rice in Germany is all wrong, for one, and the lamb too scrawny to produce the copious amount of fat required. Then there’s the unavailability of aromatic Kyrgyz cumin and yellow carrots. Making the best of the local bounty, he began selling his own version, first in 2016 as a newly-arrived student, then in 2020 after the pandemic shuttered the beauty parlour he and his wife had just opened. And judging by the number of Russian speakers who followed him from street markets to his tiny new space in Prenzlauer Berg, it’s pretty damn close to the original.

Judging by the number of Russian speakers, it’s pretty damn close to the original.

The deceptively humble-looking plateful of rice that is Plove’s plov is positively packed with flavour, with lamb imparting a savoury base note and beef providing extra meatiness and texture. Chickpeas, (orange) carrots and dried fruit ensure no two bites are the same, while plenty of cumin and garlic do the rest.

Order it on its own for €12.90, or as a generous €20 combo with soup, salad, bread, a samsa (a filled beef bun that’s closer to a burek than a samosa) and a drink (most order a communal vessel of tea or the sweetened pear concoction confusingly called kompot). Unfortunately, this move means that you’ll be missing out on the laghman main, a beef noodle soup with fresh peppers and lots of dill, and the manti, super-sized steamed meat or vegetable dumplings.

Convince your table to share, or save those for next time.

Laghman noodles and manti dumplings. Photo: Jane Silver


Kreuzbergers in search of a similar meal can hit up Taste of Samarkand, another newbie with street market roots. Akhtam and Zukhra, an Uzbek couple who lived in Ukraine until the war broke out, began selling plov and other dishes from an unmissable blue truck shortly after their family’s arrival in Berlin. The vehicle now spends most of its time parked outside the restaurant’s brick-and-mortar location on Oranienstraße, with occasional Sunday sojourns to the Kulturbrauerei.

The interior of the place currently feels like an extension of the street stand, with an atmosphere as bare-bones as the menu. Likewise, the plov here is more minimalist than across town, consisting of little more than rice, beef, carrots and onions. Though it lacks Plove’s gustatory fireworks, it’s competently done – especially the tender meaty bits, which you’ll feel tempted to go digging for like a gold prospector – and serves as a fine stomach lining prior to a night out at Roses or SO36. (Uzbekistan, like Kyrgyzstan, is a predominantly Muslim country, but customers are explicitly allowed to pair their meal with a Späti beer).

Photo: Taste of Samarkand

Most order the plov as part of a €15 combo platter, which also comes with tea, salad, a pair of meat or vegetable manti and a samsa. The latter takes the form of a flaky, buttery triangle as opposed to Plove’s thin-crusted oblong version, and nearly serves as a meal in itself. Manti and samsa fillings overlap, so choose strategically; we found beef and onions worked best for the former and pumpkin for the latter.


If you’re not into meat and dairy, you might have stopped reading by now. In fact, you might not have even started, with the reasonable assumption that vegans are few and far between on the Eurasian steppe. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and nowhere is the will stronger than at Boxhagener Platz.

Here in Berlin’s vegan epicentre, a trio of families from Uzbekistan have started serving Silk Road-inspired dishes that are not only animal-free, but sattvic: no garlic, no onions, no mushrooms. The restrictions stem from yogic principles, and the vibe at Dervish is commensurately yoga-adjacent (or new-agey, or whatever you call that thing where you’re treated to a free ginger shot while seated shoeless on a colourfully-carpeted Plov wooden platform). But the food is a swerve from your standard wellness fare, or really from that of any other restaurant in Berlin.

Photo: Dervish

Resist the urge to inhale them by the handful like popcorn.

Sadly, you won’t find vegan plov. For that, you have to go to Besh, the Mitte lunch spot run by the same proprietors since 2018. But at Dervish you will find pumpkin manti (a little one-dimensional without onions, alas) and, our favourite discovery, barak: tortellini-like dumplings filled with a beyond-refreshing mix of herbs and greens instead of the traditional beef. They come steamed or deep-fried; order the latter and resist the urge to inhale them by the handful like popcorn.

Mains travel all over the map – to Hungary, for the surprisingly meaty soy goulash, to the Middle East, in the case of the fist-sized lentil kofta, and back to Uzbekistan for homemade laghman noodles with tofu. Most are available as a combo plate for €15.90, but if you’re in a group, the pro move is to share a bunch of plates a la carte. That gets you access to some of the best dishes, like the Azerbaijani flatbread qutab with potatoes and vegan cheese, and the option to double up on the stuff you like (the combos include only bite-sized portions of the sides).

Photo: Dervish

Don’t forget the non-homemade bread that’s rounder and puffier than its Indian cousin – and the homemade pickles, which include some extremely kimchi-like fermented cabbage. Koreans travelled the Silk Road, too, after all.

  • Plove Schivelbeiner Str. 8, Prenzlauer Berg, Tue-Fri 16-22, Sat-Sun 12-22
  • Taste of Samarkand Oranienstr. 187, Kreuzberg, daily 12:30-22
  • Dervish Krossener Str. 16, Friedrichshain, Tue-Sun 12-23