detour: to the old country

On the far shores of Brooklyn one can find a bastion of the Old World, in the new. Brighton Beach, lovingly dubbed “Little Odessa by the Sea”, is home to densest population of Russian, Ukrainian and Central European immigrants. Along with their immigration, these new New Yorkers brought their food and language which take over the neighborhoods streets. You’d be hard pressed to hear any English spoken as you make your way through the numerous shops, markets and restaurants all selling goods and dishes of the beloved Old World.

Yes, New York City actually has a beach. The Russian and Ukrainian immigrants chose to settle in this area because the beach side location reminded them of the seaside communities they left back home.

Grab some traditional snacks and head over to the beach boardwalk for a picnic just like the locals do. Above, clockwise from top left: oreshki (walnut tea cake), Russian biscuit, Kefir yogurt drink and caviar spread.

Waterfront dining Brighton Beach style.

Matryoshka dolls are just a few of the traditional crafts for sale at the St. Petersburg Book Store, a mega-market supplying Eastern European books, videos and crafts to the local community.

Various candies imported from the homeland can be found at the many small shops and stands along Brighton Beach Avenue.

For a real taste of the Old World, settle in at the Home Made Cooking Cafe where they serve up delicious comfort food classics from Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia.

The three stages of blini: whole, tasted, devoured. Above, the beef and onion filled version. Other popular renditions include savory potato and sweet cherry. Copious amounts of sour cream is obligatory.

Uzbek pilaf and pelmini (Russian style dumplings). Trust me, these won’t last long.

For those who would rather eat at home than at a restuarant, the Brighton Bazaar offers unending amounts of home cooked comfort classics ranging from the sweet to savory and hot to cold. The dishes here will transport you back East without even leaving the city. The Brighton Bazaar is also the go to place for hard to find Eastern European brands and goods, imported daily from all over Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia.

Wandering through the Brighton Bazaar.

Many people know of Brighton Beach for its Russian and Ukrainian roots, but the neighborhood is also home to a sizable Central Asian population. Cafe Kashkar is the only Uygur restaurant in New York, serving up Uygur dishes which hail from the ethnic group’s home in Northwestern China.

Uygur version of nan bread at Cafe Kashkar

A must try at Cafe Kashkar are the lamb and onion stuffed dough pies known as samsa.

Though only an hour and a train ride away, you’ll feel as if you traveled to another world when visiting Brighton Beach. Come hungry and ready to explore the unfamiliar traditions, sounds, smells and tastes that hail directly from the Old World without so much as a pit stop in the New.

St. Petersburg Book Store, 230 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, 718 368 4128, daily 10 AM- 8 PM

Home Made Cooking Cafe, 504 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, 718 934 4099, daily 9 AM- 9 PM

Brighton Bazaar, 1007 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, 718 769 1700, daily 9 AM- 5 PM

Cafe Kashkar, 1141 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, 718 743 3832, daily 9:30 AM- 10 PM

The most direct way to get to Brighton Beach is to take the B subway train to the last stop, Brighton Beach. This should take about 40 minutes on a good day, but plan for at least an hour each way since the B, more so than other New York subway lines, is incredibly unreliable and unpredictable. Nevertheless, Brighton Beach is worth the trip.

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Special thanks to Meredith at Nom and the City Food Tours for putting this Brighton Beach itinerary together!

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