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Little Bukhara in Queens

New York is a diverse city and home to many ethnic neighborhoods. Some of them, like Chinatown and Little Italy in Lower Manhattan, are world-famous, to a large extent because of their long history. Some, like Little Poland in Greenpoint, Brooklyn or Little Senegal in Harlem, are less renowned – but they do not lack character either.

One of such neighborhoods spans Queens’s Rego Park and Forest Hills areas. This is the home of a large community of Bukharian Jews, most of whom immigrated here, moving from the newly independent Uzbekistan in 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are now an estimated 50,000 Bukharian Jews in New York City with practically all of them living in Queens.

Now, the word “Bukharian” means of Bukhara, the ancient city in Uzbekistan, a prominent stop on the Silk Road trade route, where Jews, fleeing the persecution of the Persian king Peroz, began to settle in the fifth century AD (there are, of course, other theories of how and when Jews first emerged in that relatively remote area. One of them sets the first arrival to Central Asia during the reign of King David - as far back as the 10th century BCE!) Bukharian Jews have rich and unique culture, combining Jewish traditions with certain Central Asian touches, for example in cuisine. They speak the language called Bukhori, which is related to Persian. Those born in the Soviet Union also speak Russian and Uzbek.

Today, the Bukharian population of Queens, with their community centers, synagogues, shops and restaurants, is spread across a large area on the both sides of Queens Boulevard roughly between Long Island Expressway and Union Turnpike. Kosher cafes (like our Chaikhana Sem Sorok), food stores, medical offices and hair salons advertising in English and Russian – all this gives the area a unique charm. While it is impossible to identify a single focal point of the community life, there are two major centers of activity of this Little Bukhara (let’s finally give a name to this area!) – one along 108th Street between 63rd Road and 65th Avenue, and another around the intersection of Queens Boulevard and 63rd Drive, near the namesake subway station on M and R lines.

Chaikhana Sem Sorok is located on Booth Street, just off 63rd Drive, two blocks from Queens Boulevard. There are many other Bukharian cafes and restaurants around, of course, but the Chaikhana is one of the less-touristy, less flashy ones. In Uzbek, Chaikhana means “Tea House”, a quintessential Central Asian institution where locals gather to exchange news, gossip and to discuss important matters of the community. So come visit us in the heart of Little Bukhara!

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