Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

The short and brief life of the Mexican-EurAsian Culinary Exchange!

 June 8, 2023 at 4:19 PM PDT

S2: The Sunday before Ibrahim Gardner and Elia left Tijuana. They celebrated with a big departure feast. They wanted lamb for their feast , but I just couldn't find any. So they got some decent beef ribs and other cuts of beef on their own. Ibrahim , the in-house Uzbek chef , prepared Plov that's a rice dish found all over Eurasia , made with five veggies like carrots and onions and obviously with a protein usually done with lamb. But this Tijuana version used beef instead. It was braised and slowly cooked with stock and other spices like cardamom , bay leaves and cinnamon. A simple salad was served on the side. It was a Mexican Eurasian culinary exchange. Oh , I wait.

S1: Oh , yeah.

S2: We had dinner and drinks , and I had them enjoyed some Mexican candies that I brought for the guys to sample. Important topics like the state of the legendary Golovkin versus Canelo. Bouts were discussed , banter and half understood jokes moved from one side of the room to the other. Some of them stepped outside the balcony for a smoke and for a call home. You could see the US border from the balcony. The US border was right there , almost a hand's reach away. Pause it.

S3: Hey , look.

S2: I got a confession.




S2: You know , food and migration. In fact , it's a stretch. I mean , there's no chef or cook from afar with a restaurant that stayed in Baja and has had an impact on the culinary landscape of the region. I mean , there's a chef and. Cook. Yes. And he's a migrant. Yes. But I guess didn't want to share too much of his life due to the nature of his journey , you know ? Yeah. And I also feel kind of guilty not notifying Alan Natalie ahead of time that they were kind of going to have to sit this one out.

S4: Not just our.

S2: Schedules didn't pan out for the field taping this time. Natalie had her upcoming theater presentations and Alan Turing with his band. There was so much I could do and I kind of felt dishonest in writing for their voices. If neither of them was able to make it to the taping. So I just thought we'd do a producer's take over. It's just you and me , buddy.

S4: They just arrived. No. Oh.

S5: Come on. This.


S5: Border was crazy.

S6: Yeah , it was pretty crazy today , man.



S2: There's no script for you guys this time. It's me and Luca hosting today.

S5: This is not cool , dude. I have to cancel the band practice for this. Dude. We all make sacrifices. Guys , dude.

S2: You see , I had to.

S6: Cross the border for these men. Like I haven't.

S5: Eaten in four hours. Okay. I'm sorry. From Kpbs. And this is part of.

S2: Hit Me with a New Beat , Lucca. From Kpbs and PRX. This is Port of Entry Glory to cross-border stories.

S4: That connect us.

S2: I'm Julia Franco.

S4: And I'm Luca Vega.

S2: This is Producers Take Over.

S6: From Kpbs. You are listening to Port of Entry. Oh.

S2: The day I first met General Ibrahim in Taiwan. Two of their bunk mates were about to take off and try their luck crossing the border through the desert Mexicali. They were in a special hurry as Title 42. The Remain in Mexico policy was expiring and they had no idea what impact that would make on their particular asylum request. Where are you from ? They were all staying at one of my friend's Airbnb turned hostels and one of Tijuana's newest high rises. The Airbnb overlooks Tijuana and the San Diego Bay. The view stretches from downtown Tijuana all the way up north to Point Loma in San Diego. So you can actually see the lighthouse from here leaving. Many of the men would step to the balcony for a smoke and just contemplate the view. I asked Elliot , a Russian Uighur , what he thought when he looked at the US border. So close , he said in a thick Russian accent generally , and Ibrahim are part of a sizable group of Eurasian migrants who have flocked to the northern cities of Mexico in recent months to seek asylum in the US after the conflict between Russia and Ukraine erupted.

S7: Just hours ago , Russian forces began their attack. Yeah.

S8: Yeah. Yeah. You can see three people here just being arrested.

S9: It seems Russians are also getting priority in receiving asylum. Many of them have to await the Mexico.

S2: While neither Ibrahim or Werner were directly affected by the conflict , they ended up here in Tijuana trying to seek asylum. As for the rest of the hostel , guests , draft dodgers , political dissidents and according to word around the hostel , maybe 1 or 2 of them were escaping Russian justice. And we're just trying to use the conflict as a ticket to a new start in the States. Hello.

S10: Hello.

S2: Everyone was grateful to him for being such an attentive and gracious host. A testament to that was that he gave each of the departing two a coat to stay warm during their trek across the border.

S4: I got a group from Russia in a couple of guys and they kind of told me what their situation was and there were more people coming. And I told them , Well , bring your friend over , you know ? And then that guy brought his other friend over and next thing you knew , I had an apartment full of people from Russia and Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and and everybody with the same goal now to ask for asylum to enter the US.

S2: That night when we first met , it was another departure feast. The Russians who were staying back prepared a special dinner for the departing two. It seemed to be a sort of way to fare them well in the next crucial part of their journey. The dish was nothing special in that time , just salad over lightly sauce pasta. It was the first time I broke bread with any of them. Oh , so that dinner was also prepared and served by Ibrahim , the Russian Uzbekistan chef from Moscow. He migrated to Russia for more than 20 years ago in search of a better life.

S11: My name is Ibrahim. I'm. Yes , Rodham. No , but it was. But I see in Moscow.

S10: He's from Eastern , but he lived in Russia for the last 20 years.

S2: My conversations with Ibrahim were all shrouded in mystery. It is unclear to us why he left Russia.

S10: By certain core competencies that he cannot tell. He had to leave till they made him to leave.

S2: So there was pressure from. Yes , powerful. People.

S10: People. Yes. So but then he doesn't want to get into that.

S2: That's Turner interpreting , by the way. He was my impromptu translator. What became clear to me was that Ibrahim found himself in a sticky situation that forced him out of Russia. He never revealed what those reasons were.

S10: Parents doesn't know that he left. I didn't know that. They don't know. That.

S11: That.

S10: This his wife and his close friend , that's all.

S2: But my suspicion was that it was not the government that went after him. It kind of reminded me of the time a close friend from Tijuana got into a hot situation with a small fry narco boss over some girl. My friend skipped town to l.a. Never to come back. Maybe Ibrahim got into some money problems with some shady people. We just don't know.

S10: He's that kind of person that he solves his problems first , then he talks about them. So he didn't tell anybody except the two person , and he just left. He wants to get to state , figure out all his stuff and then tell everyone that he left and that he's bringing his wife and son. Chicken ? Yeah.

S2: Yet when it came time to eat , Gabriel and I had our own individual plate to eat our meal. The Eurasian Russians , on the other hand , all shared a single big plate from which they ate from. It was quite peculiar , he just trying to break the ice. I asked if they had already tried tacos. They say yes , and then I asked what was their favorite. To which the reply that they only had that steak because they were all Muslim and the other options were pork or just beef cooked in lard. So I couldn't help but tell them about Barbacoa , which is a traditional Mexican 12 hour , slow cooked lamb in a pit. And I knew a great spot. I asked them if they were down to try it. They said yes. I mean , they didn't have much on their agenda but to wait for their appointment date. So it was on for the following Tuesday. I called up Natalie and Alan to join me on the day of the taping. But what's up , Nat eight is there.

S6: So can you come way ? Sorry I couldn't make it. I got rehearsals in less than a month. But you're coming right to my play. Alan.

UU: Alan. Dude , I know I can always count on you , right ? Dude , I can. I work in the morning. Sorry.

S5: Sorry. You know , I have my 9 to 5.

S2: Luca down to go. Barbacoa.

S12: Barbacoa. Of course.

S2: Luca , the sound operator and sound designer of this project. And the Mozart behind the Keys is my trusty road dog.

S12: So next Tuesday.

S2: Next Tuesday morning.

S12: Okay , I'll be there.

S2: Don't fail me , please.

S12: Yeah , sure. No worries.

UU: All right , Let's go , gentlemen. You boys the like ? Yeah.

S13: So today.

S2: Fast forward , Tuesday rolls around. Time stands up. I mean , they were all from the former Soviet states that end in stand up stand. Tajikistan , Kazakhstan , Kyrgyzstan and some random dude from Beijing. As we were waiting for the Ubers , Joanna broke some good news to us. He and Ibrahim managed to finally get an asylum appointment through the CBP app. Ibrahim here in Otay and General Nuevo Laredo , Texas.

S10: They want to go to spices , get spices , get meat.

S2: And after a long drive through the city , we're at Martinez eating barbacoa. November Martinez for Bacoor is a pop up eatery at the Tuesday Street Market in my old neighborhood of all time. From the outside , it looks like a fort put together by two kids , three big tables flanked by multicolored tarps with serving stations filled with salsas and freshly cut onion , cilantro and limes. Where to sit ? Basically , wherever you can find an empty spot. At the entrance of the pop up , you are greeted by Martinez himself with small lamb tacos to sample. He invites new customers to come in and try.

S14: In compromiso Tenemos de todo bueno Barbacoa de Borrego Consommé taquitos de pancetta mas de todo.

S2: It is impossible not to be overcome by the aroma of the cooked lamb chilies and fresh cut. It kind of shields you from the cacophony of noises all around you. Martinez , slamming his cleaver vendors and locals haggling in the unending caravan of karaoke singers , bursting your eardrums for some spare change. I'm for love. Just like home mentioned earlier. Slightly irritated with the shrieking singing of a woman with a colostomy bag hanging from her waist. We each gave her some spare change just to have her moved to the next stall. Anybody want to try. The.

S14: The.

S2: In the stomach ? Okay. Cinco de Panchito. I had them each try Martinez's specialty. One spicy pancetta taco , one rib taco and a small serving of broth on the side. Pancetta , by the way , are the innards of the lamb cooked inside of the stomach with chilies and other spices. Okay. All right. It was a treat to see them enjoy Mexican barbacoa. It was even more of a treat to see them regret putting a bit too much salsa on their tacos. Enchiladas. So , yeah. Spicy for the audience. Ebrahim tried the spiciest salsa in the barbacoa , and he's a little bit country. They love barbacoa. They love it so much that they wanted to return the favor by cooking lamb for us to show what their cuisine was like. And just like that , the Eurasian Mexican culinary exchange was born. That's when I promised to get the lamb. But as you already know , I couldn't quite make good on that promise. And just like that. Well , the Eurasian Mexican colonial exchange failed to launch. Before we headed back to the hostel , we made a few pit stops around the street market. Stop one , the spice shop.

S10: I need. I need.

S1: I need one.

S10: No , no. Whoa , whoa , whoa , whoa. Cardamon.

S1: Cardamon. Cardamom. No , no , no.

S2: Ibrahim wanted to get a few spices to use for their kitchen. Cinnamon sticks , star anise , cumin , cardamom , clove flavors. That , according to Ginger Ibrahim mentioned he missed cooking with.

S1: Are you coming ? Yeah. Yeah , we do. Come in. Oh , yeah.

S2: We kept walking as each of the guys checked out different shops asking either me or Luka to translate for them on the way back to the hostel , yet had asked if I could drive into a couple of places to run some errands. Okay. Step number one.

S1: Property.

S2: Property. Center. But , you know , it.

S1: Makes it that writing like my grandma.

S5: From Kpbs. You are listening to Port of Entry.



S10: It's so complicated.

S2: As we ran these errands. Journalist Starting opening up and share the details of how he got in hot water.

S10: Why I am going by political asylum in Kazakhstan. If you don't like anything by constitution , you have rights that you can go out. You can go to protest legally if you don't have guns or whatever and you are not aggressive , you can stand wherever you want and say whatever you want by law. But in fact , no , you can stand maximum a few minutes , then the authorities will see you and take you to the police station. And I had five of them. I mean , for the last three years I've been five times. We have a group of people who are against the corruption because.

S2: He was sharing all these stories while we were at a copy center trying to get all his documents in. Order.

S10: Order. And can you ask her to redo this one ? I sent her as a screenshot.

S2: The panel was too small.



S10: Or I want. So I want the same way that you can see the time and everything. So they won't think that it's fake because some guys.

S2: Yana is a Kazakh migrant from Astana , the capital of Kazakhstan. He left his hometown after a political watchdog Instagram page he founded went viral. It goes without saying that , well , the local politicians did not take too kindly to his vigilance. They showed up at his son's pre-kindergarten school and made some real threats that he just couldn't ignore. He left his wife and his four year old son back home.

S10: Oh , he was only four years old. He went to karate classes like 4 or 5 months is just random jumping. And in. Yeah , for his age , he's just like kind of a game. Not like a sport. But he came. You should have seen how he does his. How does it go ? Crunches. He makes it hilarious. So , yeah , my son is my soul.

S2: Given the emergency situation he found himself in , he didn't have time to do things the right way. He just had to skip town and figure things out.

S1: Later , he and.

S2: His wife figure out a way to get him from Astana all the way to Tijuana and spoilers. It was wildly complicated.

S10: Kazakh people applied to the Embassy of Mexico in Turkey. There is no one in Kazakhstan. So for Visa , I have to go to Turkey , first of all. Second of all , it was one year and two months appointments. Okay ? So if I if I wanted to come to Mexico , I would be able to come only next year in February.

S2: And just in case you didn't catch that , there is no Mexican embassy in Kazakhstan. The nearest embassy was turkeys and there were no appointments available in the next year and a half , and waiting just wasn't an option. So they were forced to look for other options until.

S10: I mean , there is no way coming here. But you read somewhere that there is Amparo and Amparo.

S1: Yanez wife.

S2: Came across a legal hack through a contact. They made people who entered Mexico without a visa with the intention to pass through to another destination could do so with an Amparo. An Amparo is a legal document that grants protection from civil or criminal procedure against the holder. If the holder was accused of breaking a law like entering Mexico without a visa , so he and his wife found a way to travel freely through Mexico without being pestered by law enforcement. Yeah. Okay.

S10: Okay. So we find out the the guy who got here by the same way as I did now , and he said that the only legal way is to come to Dominicana Dominican Republic from them. You fly to Nicaragua , in Nicaragua , you from Nicaragua through Guatemala , you come to Mexico by bus. And he said that the only trouble in documents , the legal stuff is in Mexico to get the amparo. So I flew. I flew to Dominican Republic by plane. I went to Nicaragua. The same day. So from Nicaragua , it took me four days to get to South Mexico of Tapachula. So through Guatemala and Honduras we came to Tapachula. It was like three something. Sorry , sorry , five group of people who were going that way. Mostly it's like Cuban.

S2: Cuban , he added , was worried that his documentation was real. He understood the scrutiny his paperwork and passport would go through. His irregular status in Mexico made him double check everything.

S10: It was like a difficult , but.

S2: He needed to travel all the way to Nuevo Laredo , Texas for his asylum appointment and needed to make sure that all his paperwork was in order.

S10: We went to a lawyer , which made us an emperor. Made me an emperor. So you should show him that you are going for political asylum by CBP. I explained everything to him. He made many documents and I flew from Tuzla. Because he's from Tapachula. It's difficult to fly out. Yes , I went to Tuzla with the papers. Migration was okay in the bus. I want to Tuzla and from Tuzla I flew to Tijuana and I came to Tijuana. I rented the place in Hostel and started looking for a date on CBP.

S2: As we finished dinner that final Sunday , we stepped out onto the balcony to have a final smoke on this side of the border. It was getting late and close to yet another pasture time. We all said our goodbyes and took off to Tijuana Airport here and felt uneasy as we were driving to the airport. He kept second guessing the legitimacy of the emperor.

S10: When I came here , I showed you my emperor. Its official lawyer came to the official immigration office and they gave me that paper. But I've seen so many , like , things going wrong with people who came here that I couldn't rely on that paper. So when you tell me that it's 100% good , I was like , Oh , that , that took out the pain out of my ass. I mean , I can be I am totally okay. Even with the date.

S2: It looks. It looks okay.

S10: Yeah , it looks to be sure.

S2: I mean , to be sure , we are going to find out right now the drive to the Tijuana Airport opened up a space where you could tell me a bit more about his life. I mean , being stuck in a hostel with nine other guys you don't know well means that these sorts of things are often kept quiet. No one really opens up.

S10: How do you feel ? Well , that's. Just Give me a minute. I'm texting my wife and mom. Where are you calling her ? Oh , no.

S2: You're not. Of course , did not want to leave his family. But just like the thousands of Eurasians and Russians fleeing their home country due to circumstances beyond their control. Sometimes you just have to be smart and leave to fight another day.

S10: I thought when we were planning that we won't see each other for one and a half months until they come. It will be total one and a half months. And my wife was saying that it's just one half months. He won't change , he won't get any new habits. And that was. I was thinking so too. But I'm talking with him every day and he always figures out something new. And he was like , Oh , I'm not there with you. I mean , you see it only through the phone. Yeah.

S2: Yeah. Like I say to you.

S10: Oh , well , all the stuff he misses me. Like when he comes to kindergarten , it's a new one. Like since I left , they moved to. So it's a new kindergarten and we were like a little scared that he would be uncomfortable , but he. He did very good. And every time when my wife comes to take him from there , he explains his teacher that his father is working in another city. That's what we explain him. He says that my dad is far away working and I will see him soon. So he misses a lot and it makes me almost cry when he says that stuff. The longest time that I haven't seen him in his whole life was seven days. Just want to meet with family. Sniff them , sniff , smell or how you say when you smell a baby.

S2: I mean child. Do you smell ? Yeah.

S15: It's the aroma. Aroma of your child. Yeah. You miss it ? Yeah. Look.

S10: I don't even miss my wife so much like you.



S2: Something.

S15: Something.

S10: Like child food , Something very white. I mean , light some. It feels like home.

S15: Maybe like when.

S10: When you have a child in your room. I mean , we have we have two bedroom apartment , but he stays with us. He sleeps in our bed. And when you sleep with your baby , like for enough long time , all room smells like him. I mean , in a good way. We watched him.

S12: Of course.

S2: He dreams of the moment when he is reunited with his family. We arrived at the airport.

S15: Saying Your son's name is. Iskander.

S10: Iskander. Iskander.

S1: Iskander. Turkish state. Eastern. Eastern. Turkish name. Alexander.

S2: Alexander. Yeah. Yeah.

S15: They will.

S9: All right , let's rock and roll.

S2: Due to airport security. I eventually had to stop recording after dropping him and making sure he made it through the immigration checkpoint. I bit him for a while. I haven't heard from him since. I just hope he made it safely and it's not too long before he gets to smell a little isk and there's aroma again.

S6: This episode of Port of Entry was written and produced by Julio Cesar Ortiz. Franco.

S5: Luca Vega is a technical producer and sound designer.

S6: Adrian Lobos is media production specialist.

S5: Elisa Barba is our editor.

S6: Lisa Marie Said is director of audio programming and operations , and John Decker is senior director of content development.

S5: This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting , a private corporation funded by the American people.

S6: This project was also made possible with support from California Humanities , a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit Call Sorry you're not alone.

S5: Sells nos vemos. Pronto.

In this producer's takeover, Julio talks to Ibrahim and Yernur, two Eurasian migrants who reached Tijuana after they both got into hot water in their native countries of Russia and Kazakhstan. We join them and other refugees for a meal as they talk to us about their journeys to request asylum in the US.

Tune in!



Port of Entry has whole new set of stories with you, this time centered around food and migration.

This season we share several stories about how food has changed cities in the borderlands, including episodes on folks who have made Valle de Guadalupe, the famous wine region of northern Baja, their home.

Follow hosts Natali Gonzalez and Alan Lilienthal as they sit down with these fascinating people who share their personal and family stories. Listen in and join us!

If you like this episode, show us some love @portofentrypod


From KPBS and PRX, “Port of Entry” tells cross-border stories that connect us. More stories at

Find us on Facebook

Find us on Instagram

Support our show at Search “Port of Entry” in the gifts section to get our sling bag as a thank-you gift.

If your business or nonprofit wants to sponsor our show, email

Feedback is a gift. Text or call the "Port of Entry" team at 619-500-3197 anytime with questions or comments about the show. Email us at

“Port of Entry'' is written, produced and directed by Julio C. Ortiz Franco. Luca Vega is our Technical Producer and Sound Designer.

Alisa Barba is our editor.

Episodes are translated by Julio C. Ortiz Franco and Natali Gonzales.

Elma Gonzalez and M.G. Perez are our Spanish Editors.

Lisa Morrisette-Zapp is Director of Audio Programming and Operations and John Decker is the Director of Content Development.

This program is made possible, in part, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.