Our good Uighur Muslim friends from Xinjiang, China have been writing in and reminding us they are not Chinese. Here, we pay a real culinary tribute to their wonderful food artisans for coming out with such unique techniques in creating flavour and colour on a plate.
Background from the Uyghur Kitchen
The Uighurs are Turkic people and form the majority of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Uighur culture is deeply rooted in this area, since before the time of Genghis Khan and Uighur’s history reflects the exchange of languages and religions that occurred along the Silk Road. Today, the Uighur language is written in a modified Arabic script and most Uighurs are Sunni Muslims. The Uighurs currently are under Chinese rule.
As one can imagine, the food of the Uighurs are largely influenced by the historic exchange of goods in this area, making them mostly traders. Xinjiang’s harsh desert terrain is largely uncultivable, but a system of irrigation introduced by the ancient Uighurs created ‘oases’, allowing people in this area to begin cultivating vegetables, wheat and fruit. These oases are famous for producing sweet melons and grapes. However, the feature food of the Uighurs is the incredible Lamb Kebab, often simply prepared allowing the quality of the meat to shine. Lamb Kebabs roasting over coals and naan, a leavened flatbread cooked in a Tandoor oven, are common street foods for Uighurs.
A common Uyghur dish is Leng Men or Liang Mian, a noodle dish likely to have originated from the Chinese La Mian, but its flavor and preparation method are distinctively Uighur. It is a special handmade noodle made from flour, water, and salt. The dough is divided into small balls and then stretched by hand. The noodles are boiled until very soft and then served topped with stir-fried meat and vegetables (bell peppers, chili peppers, cabbage, onions, and tomatoes) in meat stock.
Another typical Uighur dish is polo, a dish commonly found throughout Central Asia. In a version of the Uighur polo, carrots and mutton (or chicken) are first fried in oil and onion, then rice and water are added, and the whole dish is steamed. Raisins and dried apricots may also be added.
Another common staple of the Uighur menu, naan is prepared in the same traditional way as what you’ll commonly see in Middle East or Southeast Asia.
Kebabs – more commonly known as Kawap – is seasoned with chili powder, salt, black pepper and cumin. Varying versions carry different levels of onion, garlic and pomegranate juice, which adds a kick of tartness to the lamb. Finishing with cumin and salt is not uncommon.
Da Pan Ji
Another popular Xinjiang dish is Da Pan Ji, literally translated means ‘big plate chicken’. It is a spicy hot chicken stew served on a big plate and after the chicken has been eaten, wide flat hand-pulled noodles are added to the gravy. The dish gained popularity in the mid-to-late 1990s, and is said to have been invented in Shawan, northern Xinjiang by a migrant from Sichuan who mixed hot chili peppers with chicken and potatoes in an attempt to reproduce a Sichuan taste.
Mutton soups need little introduction. Probably one of the best comfort food in the world.
Taken from Aquila Style (see the images there)
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