It sounds like an idea hard to digest at first: a restaurant offering the unprecedented premise of central Asian cuisine, served degustation-style, reimagining the “gastronomic trial” of the Silk Road, all prepared on a custom-built grill pit.
But dive into a degustation – 11, 17 or 22 course – at The Nomads, and the flavours will seem familiar enough, even if some of the dish names might not.
For starters, the experience is a lot more enjoyable with some geographical context. Central Asia consists of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – countries that border Russia, China, and the Middle East. So you’ll find an uncommon mix of ideas in the food: meat-centric courses stemming from the traditionally nomadic Central Asian cultures; the use of a wide gamut of herbs and spices; and a healthy dose of tweaking to update dishes for a modern, Singaporean context.
Take, for example, beshbarmak, one of the key dishes among the nomadic people of central Asia. Typically featuring boiled meat, broth, noodles, and an onion sauce, The Nomads’ has interpreted it with a dish of slow-cooked wagyu cheek in a bak kut teh-inspired broth; with soubise replacing the onion sauce, and translucent sheets of potato taking the place of noodles.
There’s also plov, a traditional central Asian dish of meat cooked with rice. It’s one of those dishes — like halwa — where, if you trace it across a multitude of similar sounding, similarly prepared dishes, you’ll find variations across the world. Pilaf in the UK, pulau in south Asia, and even across the sea in the Carribean, pelau.
(Related: Consider the Caucasus)
Again, the restaurant gives its own spin on the dish. The Nomads’ Hunter plov is an intensely savoury risotto, made unctuous with bone marrow, and topped with wagyu striploin, pickled carrots, raisins, and a smoked quail egg.
Sometimes, the inspiration isn’t a particular dish, but a moment, technique, or ingredient encountered by the team during their research process, which included a trip to Kazakhstan.
Suneli, a coriander-dominant spice mix from Georgia, finds its way onto smoky, grilled maitake mushrooms glazed with tahini; while sturgeon – better known as a source of caviar – finds its firm meat served in a soy-butter sauce with dill.
Other highlights include squid laghman, where strips of the seafood replaces the usual pulled noodles (laghman stems from the Chinese lamian) in a sauce lightly perfumed with szechuan peppercorns; and a central Asian bread known as nan, which is served piping hot alongside foie gras and seaweed butters.
Even dessert tells a bit of a story: medovik, or honey cake – a confection popular with ex-Soviet countries – finds its way onto the menu with a recipe based on a family recipe from The Nomads’ Kazahk co-founder. At the restaurant, the rich cake is lightened with sour cream ganache, blood orange, and yogurt sorbet.