We have been in the Uyghur (pronounced Wee-Gar) area for several weeks, and have enjoyed new kinds of food. Noodles have replaced rice as our staple carbohydrate, and they are made from scratch at every small roadside eatery. The cook begins with a lump of flour dough, and deftly pulls it apart with his/her hands, separating it into thinner and thinner strands, twirling it, stretching it, and thumping it on the floured table.
This is so much part of the food culture, that if we pull up at an eatery looking hungry, someone will make a gesture of pulling his hands apart to indicate wordlessly that noodles are on the menu. They are sometimes served in a broth with various vegetable and meat garnishes, but more usually on a platter, with the meat and vegetables arriving as a side dish, usually beef and spicy green peppers, that you are encouraged to empty onto your noodles.
We’ve also enjoyed various kinds of Uyghur bread. In Turpan, Chris and I found some that was gooey with a cooked onion filling. The more standard kind is drier and has sesame seeds in it, but is still onion-flavoured. It is round like a pizza base, and has a series of spiral patterns stamped onto it.
The other day we stopped to buy some for our second breakfast, and were invited inside the establishment to sit and drink bowls of hot water. We showed an interest in the bread-making process, and I indicated with the help of my hands the standard shape of loaf that I make at home. We were given a demonstration of the bread-making process by the baker, who we understood to be both deaf and mute. After the dough is weighed and formed into rounds, the pattern is stamped onto it using a tool which has a spiral pattern of spikes. The baker indicated he’d made these tools himself.
The rounds are placed inside a Uyghur oven. We’d seen the outdoor version of these in use; an earthen beehive structure with a top opening through which food is inserted and removed. The same type of oven is used indoors, but is a cylindrical cooking receptacle built into a more standard brick coal-fired oven. The rounds of bread don’t sit on shelves to bake; they’re deliberately stuck to the rough vertical walls of the oven.
Later the same day, we stopped for a lunch of somsas. These are Central Asian variant on samosas: pastry with a meat filling. What I hadn’t realized was that in this area these are also cooked in a Uyghur oven, stuck to the walls. The somsas were good, but the Heart Smart diet has not yet reached Central Asia; the beef filling contains large lumps of fat.