Koreans have spread throughout the world, and one of the most unique communities in the diaspora started in the mid-19th century. That’s when Koreans migrated north from the northeastern part of the peninsula and into the eastern section of Russia. From there, they lived as a community until the 1930s, when Stalin ordered the mass deportation of tens of thousands of ethnic Koreans to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia because he thought they had conspired with the Japanese.
For the past 80 years, this community, known as Koryo-saram (or literally, “Korean person,”) has grown and made inroads in the country of Uzbekistan. Today, Uzbekistan has the fifth-largest concentration of Korean people outside of Korea, with a population of nearly 200,000.
In this episode of K-Town, host Matthew Kang finds a notable Korean-Uzbek restaurant called Cafe Lily. Founded by Lilia Tyan, who grew up in Tashkent, Uzbekstan, the restaurant sits in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn. There, Tyan cooks up unique takes on Korean cuisine that feel a bit lost in time: Her style of cuisine draws from rustic Korean flavors based in the Hamgyong Province of what is now North Korea, and infuses them into ingredients commonly found in Uzbekistan. The result is one of the most unique fusion cuisines in the world, from plush begodya (or steamed buns), to a well-rounded kuksi, cold noodle soup.