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Minorities, Muslims, and Halal Food

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods

Summer Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(2)


China has a large Muslim population, more in Western China than in the rest of the country. The Chinese government has called them all Hui, but they are not all from the Hui minority population. In their country, many do not and can not differentiate one Muslim minority person from another. Why they use this one minority group’s name may have to do with the fact that they are the largest Muslim minority population in China.

A lot of Islamic food made Chinese style is said to have originated in the north of China, but we find that hard to believe. Most came via the Silk Road and from the Middle East. Consuming Halal food is said to be an “Order of Allah and an essential part of the Islamic faith” so says the Halal Advocates of America on their website. They also say that “being careless about the dietary laws of Islam puts a believer in harms way in this world and the world hereafter.” That said, can a good Muslim member of the Islamic faith not only eat Halal food? Many tell us Uyghur foods are strongly influenced by foods of the Muslims in Beijing. One reason may be that the oldest Halal restaurant in China is in that city and called the Donglaishan. This Halal restaurant was the first to open in China and did so in 1905. Since 1914, it has specialized in serving Lamb Hot Pot, their most popular dish. One lady told me it is “their only dish” but we know that not quite true.

Few Muslims we asked knew that during the Yuan/ Mongol Dynasty, Halal-style slaughtering of animals was forbidden except by government-approved ritual slaughterers. This may have been done to assure correct ritual slaughtering, a requirement of their faith. During those times, the emperors were Mongol and/or Muslim and they knew there was a need for this. We know that Genghis Khan forbade kosher slaughtering because there are different rules; perhaps this was done not to mix them up.

Chinese Islamic restaurants are known as Halal eateries and called qingzhen caiguan in Chinese. They serve no pork, nor is any ever found on their menus or in their kitchens, nor is it allowed to be brought in to their eateries. Lamb and mutton are approved Halal meats but only if slaughtered correctly. These restaurants rely heavily on them, also on beef, duck, goose, and other poultry.

Chinese southern Islamic restaurants do serve fish, shrimp, and other seafood as well as lamb, mutton, beef, and poultry, if ritually slaughtered in an approved manner. What they can not eat, and do not have in any Halal restaurant is pork no matter how it is slaughtered or how it is prepared. Furthermore, to assure religious purity, the Halal restaurant owners we spoke to said they only purchase from Halal vendors so there will be no prohibited foods nor any cross-contamination with non-Halal foods.

There are many Muslim minorities in China, and most eat only Halal-approved foods in their homes or the homes of other Islamic people. The Dungan people, descendants of the Hui, operate many of these eateries; and one Duncan owner told us they use new chopsticks for all; and they regard their food as cleaner than foods served in non-Muslim restaurants.

The Muslim dish served most often is lamian. This can be a beef or mutton-flavored soup, sometimes tomato-based, and it almost always has pulled noodles in it. They can be rice or glass noodles or wheat noodles, most often are hand-stretched and made with wheat flour, and simply called ‘hand-pulled noodles.’ They are served in this soup with or without vegetables, and they can be commercially prepared, hand- pulled, or otherwise made in their restaurants. Most love to tell their customers they are always hand-pulled.

Halal restaurants often serve Chuanr, a Xinjiang dish whose origin is Uyghur. This can and is often served with nang, an unleavened bread that is most often round, hand-made, of wheat, and topped with sesame seeds. It is common to tear this bread into small pieces and put them into this soup. Other loved Halal foods can include Beijing Duck, a pancake ready to hold some of this sliced duck is shown on this page. They also offer Niang Pi, which is a noodle and tofu dish often served cold, and they like lamb, goat, or beef on skewers that has been grilled over an open flame, as are the ones shown on this page.

Among the fifty-six recognized population groups, there are the Han and the minority ones. f these, ten are Chinese minority populations and they have many Muslims members. Yes, the Hui are the largest among them; and in no particular order, others include the Salar, Uygur, Hongxiang, Kazak, Kirgiz, Tartar, Tajik, Bonan, and Uzbeks. Among all minority populations, the Zhuang and the Yi are the largest ethnic groups, but neither is a Muslim population. The Hezhen is one of the smallest minorities and they are not Muslim, either.

Among other beliefs, the Muslims believe in the Holy Koran and in the Al-Hadith, both books said to be the words of Mohammed. He was their most important religious leader, long since deceased. All Muslim roots originated in the Middle East, every one did originate from that region of the world. However, each minority population can have somewhat different beliefs and behaviors.

There are many Islamic/Halal restaurants in China run by Uyghur people. They and the Dongans really do believe their eateries are cleaner than those run by non-Muslim owners. The ones we spoke to did tell us they purchase all their foods from other Muslim owners to assure no cross-contamination. In the past, many readers have asked this magazine for a recipe for and how to pull these noodles. We have seen it done many times, but are no experts on how to do it. We recommend the A. Wong Cookbook published in London in 2015 by Mitchel Beazley that was distributed by Octopus Books. It has been reviewed in an earlier issue of this magazine.

Any differences between Muslim minority groups are really not well known. We are not sure of many of of these differences. We do know that the Constitution of the PRC does guarantee equal rights to all, and it promotes their cultural and economic development and helps them develop their own language and their own social and cultural customs.

One does need to know that Chinese minority populations are not stagnant in numbers or in people. They are growing and changing. In 1954, there were thirty-nine different minority populations. Ten year later, there were more than fifty, and in 1979 there were fifty-six. The Jino are the newest among them, and they were officially recognized in 1979.

                                                                                                                                                       
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