Spicy Uighur Street Meat and Buttered Naan.
As a mom, I look back on all the travel I experienced--apart from my family--
ever graduating from high school, and wonder if I'll be as brave as my
parents to entrust my children in the hands of a non-profit organization
in some developing nation? Hmmm...
No, my parents were not inattentive loons. They were always watchful and wise. This is how it all went down.
At age 14, I asked my parents if I could go on a trip
overseas. I had all the information ready to hand them, and large
pleading eyes fixed on their faces. They looked over the pamphlets.
After discovering the cost was over $2700, they relaxed and casually
stated I could go as long as I could raise the money. I'm sure they
thought that would defuse the situation.
They knew my persistent nature, but completely
level of resolve. After several months of car washes, candy bar sales,
and an assortment of other fund raisers, I was purchasing my Maleria
pills and packing my bags...off to India!
After that I was hooked! Every summer through high school and college, an international adventure took place. At age 17, I spent a summer in China.
The China I know, is far different from what most tourists experience.
Yes, we walked on the Great Wall, visited Tienanmen Square and the
Forbidden City, and traveled down the Silk Road.
But we were there to study. Our group stayed in the North Western
province of Xinjiang, in a city called Urumqi. Every day we took
Mandarin language classes and Chinese History. Yet we also studied a
second language, Uighur (or uyghur).
The Uighur language is spoken by, and named after, a select Turkish ethnic group in this far-removed area of China. The Uighur people
are thought to be one of the oldest cultures in China, settling heavily
in the North-west corner centuries ago. More recently, families have
crossed over the Kazakhstan-China boarder in hope of a better life. The
language, culture and food in Xinjiang province is extremely different
from that of most other Chinese provinces. A delicate mingling of
Chinese and Middle-Eastern thought and tradition.
We made friends by visiting the local university's "English Clubs" where
students would meet to practice their English. You can imagine how
excited they were when we showed up to chat.
Visiting dorms and apartments to hang out with our new friends; several
girls taught me how to make traditional pork dumplings and various rice
dishes. On another occasion, we taught them
how to make fried chicken and home fries! That was my first experience dealing with a whole, head-and-all chicken!
Most of the food we ate was street food. This is where the Uighur
culture took center stage. I can still see the bustling streets filled
with vibrant colors, and vividly recall the noisy bantering, and
fragrance of exotic spices simmering in hot oil. Freshly squeeze
pomegranate juice, mutton with large, doughy stir-fired noodles, rice
pilaf dishes, and naan with meat-on-a-stick were common fare! The street
vendors were always happy to share their goods and educate us on their
I could truly go on and on about my experiences that summer, but I'll
have to save the rest for another post, or we'd never get to the
I'm STILL practicing slinging my noodles into submission,
like they do in China. So for now, I'll share Uighur street meat and
The meat used at these lively street carts was always mutton, or old goat
they would tell us. The fat was considered the choice cut, so each
skewer was laced with a pattern of small morsels of meat and fat cubes.
The skewers were then sprinkled with spice and grilled over open flames.
As I don't have access to old goat,
I often use well-marbled lamb steaks or beef chuck to replicate the fatty flavor.
The naan bread was cooked in a tandoori oven (or something like it) but
was either a soft, bubbly oval, or a crisp, glossy circle--depending on
which vendor you chose. After AMPLE naan sampling that summer, I
determined I was partial to the soft, fold-able version....Click HERE for the recipes!