According to some ancient texts, there were Israelites that began traveling to Central Asia to work as traders during the reign of King David as far back as the 10th century BCE. Some of them settled in the area around what is now the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand in present-day Uzbekistan.
Another theory is that Bukharian Jews are the descendants of Babylonian Jews who, instead of returning to Jerusalem, stayed in the empire after it was conquered by the Persian king Cyrus in 539 BCE.
At any rate, for more than two millennia, these Jews lived in an isolated region between Kazakhstan’s steppes and the Hindu Kush mountain range, primarily in the former Emirate of Bukhara.
Their unique culture and Persian-influenced language, called Bukhori, was preserved for more than 2,500 years until the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, which precipitated a wave of westward emigration. Today, only several hundred of Bukharians remain in Central Asia. Of the 50,000 or so who settled in the U.S., more than 60 percent live in Queens in New York, concentrated in the Rego Park neighborhood, which has become the epicenter of a thriving Bukharian and Central Asian restaurant scene. Some say that Bukharian identity has largely been preserved in their language ... and cuisine.
Like virtually every Jewish cuisine, Bukharian food came together using the ingredients of neighboring cultures—in this case those along the ancient Silk Road—and was shaped by the boundaries of kashrut and the Sabbath.
Bukharian food often includes meat and rice dishes. The meat may be mixed with rice, fruits and vegetables to complete the meal. When it comes to bread, the tandoor-baked non, or lepyoshka, is the most popular option. This is a circular type of bread covered with sesame seeds. There is also a dry version of this bread known as non toki.
Bukharian cuisine includes significant portions of meat. Kebabs may include chicken, beef and lamb on sticks. Lagman soup includes meat with both noodles and vegetables. Another type of soup is shurpa, which is a rich, fatty broth combined with generous pieces of lamb and vegetables. Samsa comes in the form of pastries filled with meat or other ingredients such as pumpkin.
Rice is a common feature in some of the dishes. Many Bukharian Jews eat plov, rice mixed with cumin, vegetables and meat. Another common rice dish is baksh, which features chicken parts cut into cubes and seasoned with cilantro. There are several ways to cook this dish, allowing the chef to make a few adjustments and personalize the dish.