Tuesday morning, Sustainable Waterloo Region (SWR) gathered up a couple…
Bogda is now located at:
62 Balsam Street
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3H2
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[ Originally published in 2012. ]
The Uyghur people live in many different regions which in turn are part of the Xinjiang Automous Region of China. There is a very small corner of this agglomeration of peoples in north Waterloo’s Laurelwood neighbourhood. If you are interested in broadening your dining and food horizons, I encourage you to visit sometime–soon. I say soon because I’m not sure how long the restaurant will be able to hold on.
Xinjiang is in the area of western China and among such extreme places as Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Who knew? When you visit Bogda Restaurant, it seems just as desolate. I warn you: there’s not much there. A stark, bare-bones interior with virtually no decor betrays a restaurant just trying to survive. The good thing is that it is just about next door to the popular Hog Tails BBQ, so perhaps if you can’t get in for brisket or a Po’ Boy you will pop into Bogda.
As for the menu, it is just as stark. Advertising central Asian and Japanese food, there are only a half-dozen items currently available. Several sushi dishes, a bento box or two, and an improbable egg salad sandwich are pictured on the place-mats but are not being served at this time. No reason given.
The Uyghur, living in such rugged terrain and at such altitude, eat I would imagine a lot of mutton and camel, and yogurt and naan-style flatbread. There is no camel at Bogda, I’m assuming, but there is some mutton and lamb. Lamb soup with “naan” is surprisingly good (it seems this bread has a sort of sea-biscuit hardness and which is softened when dunked in the broth).
That broth was a lamb broth and was strong but not as powerful as you might imagine. It was quite delicious, in fact, clear with green onion, slightly sweet, peppery, and salty. It was the swimming pool for heavier, chewier chunks of mutton on the bone that gave lots of full muttoniness. A few big chunks of carrot surprised me: they were not cooked into a mush and their flavour complemented the broth. Taste highlight: sweet, salty, muttony broth and the matching carrot flavour.
At the other end of the ovine food-scale, lamb kebabs are tender, sweet, and seasoned with a dry and mild spice garnish. They too were delicious and crisp with a slight grill caramelization. Taste hightlight: tenderness, grill flavour, and the right amount of spice-heat.
Dapanji is a traditional Uyghur chicken dish with pieces of bone-in bird cooked as a stew of Szechuan peppers, potatoes, green onion, garlic (lots of garlic!), and what seemed to be cumin-like spice profile. The defining feature is the “lamian” or “laghman” wheat-flour noodles made by the restaurant. The thick noodles are fairly neutral in taste and pick up the flavours of the associated ingredients. These dishes are served in big bowls and perfect for sharing at table. Taste highlight: thick flat noodles.
The best dish at Bogda is what has been called by the restaurant ban mian, though that is also the name of a Singaporean dish. Here, beef is the protein with the fabulous laghman noodle, green onions, spinach, garlic, and Chinese cabbage (so lovely) swimming in a soy sauce liquor that is salty and umami. The noodles are wicked-good.
They start off life with an inch-thick diameter and then are pulled apart along their length to form very thick, rough-shaped “spaghetti.” The noodles were soft and satin in texture and a perfect foil for the spicier and crunchier elements of the dish. If you’ve watched an Anthony Bourdain episode or two, I’ll bet these are the noodles that noodle-makers stretch and whip around like skipping rope with such flair in order to create its length. However it is made, I loved it. Taste highlight: the noodles, the crisp cabbage, but also the rich soya sauce liquor.
I guess when you live in extreme geography, on or near the roof of the world, you eat heartily and with gusto. You eat to be nourished to work with your herds and to survive. Bogda serves somewhat heavy, somewhat oily, and somewhat salty foods–the garlic can be a pungent factor as well. With every bite, there’s seems to be just a slight dab of oil on your lips. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all: that’s just the food. And I love that I am sharing this cooking in this moment with these folks at Bogda–folks who have brought some of their culture to our part of Canada. It’s the real and simple food of the Uyghur people and it is worth the simple experience.
I’m just glad that we have access to this unique cooking and one from so far away and in such desolate climes. Give it a try and do your best to support this new and different flavour and ingredient profile. Waterloo Region needs these kinds of choices and varieties in its dining fabric.