It's OK to use your utensils. In Kazakhstan — whose national colors of sky blue and sun gold are displayed at this restaurant's front counter — "beshbarmak" means "five fingers." In Central Asia, it also denotes a communal dish, traditionally eaten by hand, of broad noodles cooked in broth and topped with boiled meat (in South Brooklyn, beef by default, lamb with a day's notice).
Also shown: sour, carrot-riddled salad and a plate of lamian (best eaten together); a heaping helping of dapan ji ("big tray chicken"); condiments (pepper is welcome, garlic is essential); and the restaurant's facade. "Dungan" is a name for Muslims of Chinese heritage who also call themselves "Hui"; the Chinese characters can be translated as "Hui people's noodles," "pilaf," and "king of big tray chicken." Inside the restaurant, however, the languages of choice are Russian and English.
Ask a New Yorker where to find a good babka, and odds are they'll point you toward a cake. Perhaps it will be molded into a tall cylinder, after the fashion of Poland. Perhaps, following a style associated with Eastern European Jewish tradition, it will be braided. Almost certainly it will be sweet.
To instead sample a good savory babka, call on what might be New York's only restaurant (since the closing of Syabri) devoted to the cuisine of Belarus. In that landlocked country, bordered by Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, and Ukraine, babka is not a dessert but a savory potato pie, baked and served in a crock. Its closest relation seems to be the Lithuanian kugelis — both sport bits of pork — but the grated potatoes of this Brooklyn babka have a lighter, almost fluffy texture.
At our waitress's urging, we requested our babka straight away, before finalizing the rest of our order; it requires some 40 minutes. For a look at how we bided our time till the babka was served, see the EIT page on Facebook.
Green is the most familiar color for a Turkish sarma. Savory versions of these "wrapped things" or "rolled things" are commonly filled with minced meat extended with rice, then sheathed in richly hued grape leaves or, perhaps, paler cabbage leaves. For a fistik sarma, however, the wrapper is fashioned from sheerest filo, and the green of crushed pistachio, bound by syrup, glows from within.
The first was nearly bare; the second was dressed in layers. You can think of pelmeni as Russian-style ravioli, a name sometimes applied to this restaurant by English speakers, since "Stolovaya" — "canteen" or "dining room" — is printed only in Cyrillic characters. These bite-sized dumplings, for this batch filled with minced veal (25 for $4.95), were boiled and adorned with just a little butter; sour cream and clear vinegar were also at hand.
Arriving at our table moments later was a herring salad ($6.95) of boned skinned fish bedecked in beet, onion, mayonnaise, and egg, a presentation called "selyodka pod shuboy." A poetic translation would be "herring in a fur coat," or, perhaps by a poet of lower aspirations, "an overcoat." It's a heavy dish, and photographed to a smaller scale than the pelmeni; you can guess which one provided the leftovers.
Look past the visual clutter outside this Israeli-American kosher market. Beside one doorway, the cellotape residue of previous flyers throws shade, literally, on a current special.
My dining buddy and I took note, and made haste; a few minutes later we pulled over to a quiet patch of sidewalk a half-block from Holon. Our plastic spoons were next to worthless for photo styling, so there's little to see here, apart from a pistachio garnish, of the orange blossom and mastika ice cream by Joy Betesh (pint, $4, unlabeled and very possibly underpriced by the cashier). So take my word: The orange is wonderful. We made a good dent in this pint before packing it up; my buddy doubled back for another, to hold in reserve.
Holon Middle East Groceries 527 Kings Hwy. (East 3rd-East 4th Sts.), Gravesend, Brooklyn 718-336-7758 Also at 809 Ave. U (East 8th-East 9th Sts.), Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn 718-627-5878 Closed Saturday www.HolonFoods.com
Shown primarily for the dense juxtaposition of varied signage: Chinese, Roman, and Cyrillic scripts on the awning of the herbal shop, U.S. and Italian flags out front of the pizzeria. (Click for a closer look.) Note, too, three rides, each sweeter than the next: one bicycle, one motor scooter, one coin-op giraffe.
Chinese Herbal Therapy Center 1323 Ave. U (East 13th-East 14th Sts.), Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn 718-376-1988 J&M Pizza II 1323 Ave. U (at East 14th Sts.), Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn 718-645-6010