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« Euroblogger Parcel Exchange by Farid Zadi | Main | Zuni Café celebrates the artistry of Paula Wolfert »

October 16, 2005

Uighur Muslim Foods in Xinjiang, China by K.M. Abramson

Grilling_kabob My notes from a recent trip to Khotan, Karghilik, Yarkand, Kashgar, and Urumqi, all in Xinjiang. Using Mandarin and basic Uighur, we were able to get the names and ingredients of most of the dishes we tried, and I’ve listed them here with a brief description. This was my first trip to Xinjiang; any insights or corrections would be welcome.

(grilling kabob)


No matter where we were, this came with strips of yellow carrot and a big hunk of lamb on top. Restaurants can run out of this, so best to order early in the day.

This must be the Uighur transliteration of liangfen, those gelatinous yellow, gray, or white blocks and strips of bean starch that are popular elsewhere in China. (Liangpi was also a big hit here.) The seasonings here—black vinegar, soy sauce, chili pepper, cilantro— were roughly the same as in Chengdu (minus the heavy use of Sichuan peppercorns, of course), but the sauce was heavier on vinegar and lighter on the oil. In Kashgar, one vendor threw in chickpeas laced with cabbage.

This seemed like a very central Asian dish: a big wedge of roasted pumpkin topped with stewed dried fruits (apricots, red dates) and almonds. Fairly sweet and bland, this was a popular item at a restaurant/bakery we visited in Kashgar.

Narin chöp—
Noodles in lamb broth Called narenmian in Chinese, I first noticed this on the menu of the restaurant/bakery in Kashgar that also served the pumpkin dish described above. This was another dish that seemed like it might have close cousins in other part of central Asia: it consisted of a bowl of very soft egg noodles—so soft that they were served with a spoon instead of chopsticks—in a lamb broth, topped with chunks of lamb, yellow carrot, mung beans, turnip, and cilantro. It had a strong lamb flavor but was fairly mild in terms of spice.

Like Turkish manti, these were little ravioli filled with lamb.

In Khotan we saw kabob sold as chicken and cubes of fat seasoned with garlic, pepper, a little cumin and a pinch of chili. Lamb kabob was also common, as was a kabob of ground lamb that resembled an Adana kabob. My husband, who has eaten kabob all over China, says the spicing was milder in Xinjiang, probably because the meat was better quality and thus could stand on its own.

These are wheat noodles served in a thin, spicy tomato broth that contains veggies like cabbage, scallion, pepper, and onion. The default laghman often comes with lamb, but there are other variations like lamb and eggplant.

Just look for the street vendor standing in front of a gigantic blob of yellow stuff decorated with various innards. Street vendors cut off a portion and top it with some vinegar and chili pepper. In Khotan our serving came with a strip of tripe. We first thought öpke was tail meat of some sort, but we later learned that it was lung. Although öpke looks funky, the taste and texture are quite mild. My husband thought it tasted like a matzoh ball.

Taocan mifan---
The name comes from the Chinese for a set meal. This is a good way to sample a wide range of dishes. When we ordered it in Yarkand, it came with a chicken stew, fish stew, fried egg, peanuts, and rice. Boiled eggs One vendor in Kashgar presided over a giant pot of boiled eggs in chicken broth. There were also some chicken pieces in the mixture, but customers seemed to go for the eggs.

This typically came as two plain buns, or mantou/momo, served with a side of spiced lamb and vegetables (often peppers, onions, tomato, garlic shoots, and some cabbage or other green). In Karghilik, we were served buns stuffed with a little lamb. The momocai also turned up in one of our set breakfast meals in Yarkand.

We saw many varieties of breads filled with lamb, and the filling was often the same: cubes of fatty lamb mildly spiced with pepper and sometimes onion.

Nan In Kashgar we had nan topped with nigella seed; in Khotan it came topped with onion. We typically saw it in two sizes: the size of a small dinner plate and the size of a pizza. In Karghilik we had a yellow nan which tasted like it was made from an egg dough. In Khotan we had a small, hard nan made from cornmeal.

Gösh Kide---
This was a round circle of bread filled with saucy and fatty lamb cubes. The outer surfaces of the bread were crunchy but the inside was soft. It was baked tandoor-style.

Girde Nan, AKA the Uighur bagel---
This type of bread looks and tastes like a plump bagel, only the indentation in the middle does not go all the way through the bread. The surface is crisp all over, and the bottom of the bread is especially crusty.

Gösh Nan Literally “meat bread” (maybe it has a less generic name, but this is what the vendor told us it was called)---
This is a soft, fried turnover filled with meat and topped with black vinegar, chili, and garlic,

Samsa Related to samosa?---
This was a small square of baked flaky bread that contained the usual filling of chopped lamb and onion.

Yogurt, syrup, and crushed ice In Khotan, the servers placed crushed ice (chipped off from a giant block) into a bowl, added syrup, and topped it off with some thin yogurt. (At one stand, the yogurt was lightly sweetened. At another stand, it was plain.) The dish was eaten with a spoon. In Kashgar, we had a similar dish, but the yogurt and syrup were mixed together with the ice, rather than left in layers, and customers drank the mixture instead of scooping it up with a spoon. In Khotan we were told the syrup was made of grapes; in Kashgar the vendor said he just used sugar syrup. A tasty home version might be made with honey or homemade sugar syrup.

Like the Chinese zongzi, this is a triangle of glutinous rice steamed inside a green leaf. In Kashgar, each zungzi came with a red date on top; the vendor cut each zungzi into eight chunks and topped it with a sugar syrup. (After our snack he passed around a wet rag so we could clean up.)

Dried fruit and nut bars (did not get name)---
In Karghilik we tried three types of this dessert: 1) squares of dates, black raisin, and walnut, 2) walnut, and 3) walnut and green raisin. In each case the fruit and nuts were held together by a thick and sticky sugar syrup. Other Sweets Bakery sweets tended to be hit or miss. We saw baklava at one supermarket bakery, but it looked dry. Fruit-filled cookies were common, including a rugelach-like roll cookie with apricot filling. At one restaurant, the set breakfast came with a slice of bakali, a hearty walnut coffee cake. This was excellent, although a version we had elsewhere was a bit too dry. We knew, at the least, we wouldn’t find lard in our cookies—it shows up everywhere else in Chinese desserts—but I was surprised when one cookie I ate seemed to be made with lamb fat.

OTHER FOODS we noticed but did not try: Roasted corn (throughout southern Xinjiang) and boiled corn (Urumqi) Hearts grilled on a skewer Chunks of liver grilled on a skewer Fried fish fillets

SUPERMARKET FOODS Many grocery stores stock Turkish products. If Turkish chocolate is your thing, Xinjiang has plenty of it. We also found a decent Turkish chocolate hazelnut paste at the impressive price of 50 cents a jar, so that went home with us to Chengdu. Supermarkets will also carry an interesting variety of wines (mulberry, etc.), jams (pomegranate, fig, rose), tea, and juices. If you’ve jumped on the pomegranate juice bandwagon, Xinjiang will not disappoint.

BEST JIAOZI IN CHINA Finally, while this may not qualify as Muslim food, we did stumble across a restaurant in Urumqi that my husband claims serves the best lamb jiaozi in all of China. (Given the choice of ingredients, the place may be run by Hui, but we did not see a Halal sign.) There are two choices on the menu: lamb jiaozi and lamb jiaozi in soup. The jiaozi are ordered individually, which is unusual these days; my husband suggests 20-25 jiaozi for a single serving, since they are small. The name of the restaurant is Yangji Yangrou Shuijiaoguan. It is located on a small alley with no name off of Jiefang Beilu. Look for the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Jiefang Beilu, and the alley is just off of that corner. I recall that the “shuijiao” sign was visible from the main road.


Dogh (crushed ice, syrup, and yogurt)


Gosh Kide (bread filled with lamb)


Gosh Kide filling

Langpun (beanstarch noodle) vendor, Kashgar


Langpun (beanstarch noodle) vendor, Khotan

Opke (lung)


Polo (pilaf) with lamb and yellow carrots


zungzi (sweet rice triangles)


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you've done great work detailing your Uyghur eats - congratulations! you've cinched it - i'll get there someday somehow. if you're int'd, i could send some of my Chinese food writing your way. Harley

A lot of food and all very interesting. Thanks for the photos.


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