Sunday, October 30, 2011

Kashgar - Xinjiang Food!!!

Okay!! Finally!!! A post in which I talk about Xinjiang food, having actually been to Xinjiang! A post in which I don’t talk about bread! Let’s begin.

So I decided before I went, that I would try the quintessential Uyghur meals regardless of whether they had meat in them or not. If this horrifies you, then maybe read this post. Essentially the decision comes down to a fear-of-missing-out paradigm that pretty much twists my arm into flinging myself into all of life’s possibilities. I.e. I didn’t go bungee jumping in Uganda because I actually thought I would enjoy it, I just knew that I would never forgive myself for missing the opportunity. It turned out to be a seriously incredible experience that nothing can compare to. Anyways, I just knew that I had to try some real Uyghur food while I was in the motherland, or I would never stop dreaming about how good it ‘could have been’.

So, to begin with, I have to remind you that the bread was a big part of the Xinjiang food experience, and so now we officially move on. Beginning with…..


The pilaf is pretty much the national (if Xinjiang was a nation, which I think it should be) dish. They make it in these epic steel/bamboo containers that look like silos with big wooden lids, and it just sits in there cooking for hours and hours. It’s perfectly oily, and is full of dried fruits and spices and herbs, and chunks of lamb that have been cooking for about a hundred hours and are now so tender that they make cherubs weep.

The meal is served to you with a small plate of pickled vegetables which are actually delicious. Normally I hate Chinese pickled vegetables with a passion that grows and grows, but these are kind of spicy and have coriander and fresh ginger and are just really fresh and zesty. They’re actually incredible. Sometimes you also get a pot of natural yoghurt, which you can imagine is just the bomb. The whole thing is served with cups of hot local specialty tea.

The next delicious thing is the skewers. I mean, this is the pinnacle of the Xinjiang meat experience. They’re meat eaters. You cannot escape it. I cringe to imagine what I would have eaten had I not forsaken my veggo-orientation for that week. Probably just bread. Their diet consists almost solely of meat and bread, and the best example of this meat culture is the kebab.

Every single restaurant has them, and all along the street you can find the long, thing, specially-made barbeques pouring their charcoaled smoke into the air. It’s actually a really nice smell, it reminds me of winter and the lovely days when I used to eat big lamb roasts as a kid.

The kebabs are dusted in some kind of spice rub mix which is ridiculously tasty. I don’t know what they put in that stuff, but dude, it’s like heaven. I think it could actually be potatoes and pumpkin roasted, and if it had that spice mix on it, it would make me an eternally happy chappy.

The last real kind of food, is the noodle selection. More similar to what I previously knew as Xinjiang food, and what I learned to cook in that class I went to in Beijing. They make fresh noodles and then a tasty sauce to go with it. This is just about the only kind of food in Xinjiang that actually has vegetables in it, and it’s great. The method of preparation isn’t too unique, you know, you just put the things together in a pan and stir-fry it all up. The preparation for the noodles, however, is pretty darn special, and watching it is amazing.

 The only not-so-good thing about the food in Kashgar, and in Xinjiang in general, is the hygiene... I mean, I told you what it was like at the Sunday Bazaar, but it's pretty damn terrible everywhere. I don't want to harp on about it (lest I actually make myself sick thinking about what I ate...) but I think this next photo is a pretty funny way to wrap up the 'food' recollections of the trip.

They look so angry!!! Hahahahhaha. 

The other thing I noticed, though, is that a lot of what we were eating was kind of almost 'special occasion' foor for the locals. They rarely eat the noodle dish, and don't even have the pilaf that often. Usually they will eat a bagel ripped into pieces, and then dunked into a lamb broth. The broth is served with a big chunk of bone in it, and the rest is a clear, without vegetables or other ingredients. The men
(I barely saw women at all in any of the restaurants) would sit there and nibble off the little bits of meat from the bone, and apart from that jsut have a lot of bread. I have no doubt the broth itself was tasty, but surely the nutritional value of such a meal is nil?

The last thing I absolutely MUST mention is the Uyghur yoghurt. Holy mac, this stuff was the greatest yoghurt I have ever had in my life. Easily. Hands down. And it was 2 kuai. Thats less than 30 cents, people. 

We got a small pot each as dessert after a delicious meal one evening in Kashgar after seeing a big table beside us go crazy over it. They serve it to you in the individual little bowls that it is grown in, and give you a big container of sugar and a spoon. Also served with local tea, of course. The yoghurt tastes so amazing by itself, it hardly needs sugar at all, but when you sprinkle that sweetness on top it just comes alive as a lovely dessert! The sour nature of the yoghurt and then the crunch of those oh-so-sweet sugar granules.... oh boy oh boy. It was a culinary highlight for sure.

The last truly great discovery was the cookies. Kashgar has great cookies. Little known fact, but it's true. You buy them by weight, and then munch them at will. Totally Awesome.

Anyways, I guess to sum up, the food was much different than what I expected, but totally fulfilled my expectations of how awesome it would be.I did not realise they would have such amazing yoghurt and cookies, though. I thought that the noodles was the numero uno dish, but the pilaf turned out to really be my favourite. 

Their culture really revolves a lot around lamb (the animal) and lamb (the meat) as well as baking and bread. It was really nice to be in a place that wasn't really China, but had that same kind of food-is-an-ingrained-part-of-the-culture vibe. If you live in China, or are planning a trip to China, and you are at all interested in food and/or cooking, then Kashgar (or at least somewhere in Xinjiang) is a must.


  1. cookies?? REAL cookies??!! Those were impossible to find outside of a foreigner's apartment in Lanzhou!! hahaha

    I had a lot of the Xinjiang-style kebobs and noodles in Lanzhou, but sadly, none of that bread you had :(

    You're really making me miss Northwestern food - this kind of stuff simply doesn't exist in the United States....that's one of the saddest things about being home now :(

  2. That spice rub used on the lamb kebabs always has cumin, chilli powder, and salt. Variations on this basic recipe include fennel, garlic, cloves, Sichuan pepper and etc., but the key is the cumin, which is not a spice normally used by the Chinese.


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