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Middle Eastern and Chinese Tastes in Kashkar

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Food in the Middle East

Spring Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(1) pages: 13 to 14

In a previous issue, we discussed Yugur and Uyghur foods but with no mention of Kashkar, an important city ruled at one time or another by Tibetan, Persian, Turkic, or Mongol people. Many living there were Muslims in this large city more than two thousand years old. Then and now, more than thirty different ethnic populations lived and live here.

It was on the ancient Silk Road and a city whose name meant ‘place to find jade.’ It was bounded by Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, is close to Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, and India, and on the edge of the Taklimakan Desert. The city looks Chinese, but much of its food does taste more Middle Eastern than Chinese.

An imperial envoy of the Han Dynasty, Zhang Qian (164- 114 BCE), did visit here when it was called Shule; that was in 119 BCE. One of this envoy’s tasks was to make alliances in this Chinese territory. He did not succeed all that well because there was lots of Uyghur culture, lots of Uyghur economics, Uyghur politics, and their food, too. This place had many farms, pastures, and local products, and many people did follow the Islamic rule eating, in their attire, art, and architecture as their heritage was Middle Eastern.

This Oasis city had many traditional bakeries, one of China’s largest mosques, a Sunday Animal Market, a crowded bazaar, and a huge night market. Day and night one could buy beasts and breakfast, dried fruit and pilaf, and a dessert called zonga. Here was a local take on sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, matang which was their nut nougat covered in creamy yogurt curds drizzled with brown sugar syrup. There were spices in dora dermak shops where the most popular one was a mixture called tetitku.

People here had a strong sense of family, and they were hospitable. Different generations did live together in one compound, and strangers were warmly welcomed. They always washed both hands before and after eating; and they never sat with the soles of their feet facing others as most often they sat on their heels. At meals, they tore their naan, their bread, into small pieces, never bit into a whole one. They accepted a cup of tea with two hands and never brought dirty dishes into a mosque or a cemetery.

Kashkar was and still is home to Indian, Christian, Arab people, and many Islamic and Chinese cultures. This was a Buddhist commercial hub with its own unique charm, a place where females were never allowed into a mosque, non-Muslims never allowed to attend a Friday worship service.

The Heyigah Meschit or main mosque had a tower for sightseeing, showed many exhibitions, and had a museum of Western regional things. The main shopping street did and still does sell lots of gold jewelry, many handicrafts, and all kinds of pottery. Five hundred years ago, there was a school here that spread Islamic culture.

This was an international place connecting China with Western Asia and Europe. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368 CE), the fiefdom of Genghis Khan and his second son, Chagatai, ruled. In the second century CE, art was popular and colorful, and folks bought many water jugs, bowls, plates, trays, drinking cups, and mugs in many colors. They still do.

People here lived in homes with skylights and terraces, but no modern conveniences. The Kazahks ate usng their hands, their Han neighbors used chopsticks. Both ate much nang, and those who were Turkic ate theirs Muslim style flavored with cumin, chili, cinnamon, garlic, saffron, sesame, and yogurt. They put sugar on top, their lamb pies were pan-grilled and stuffed with carrots and onions.

They adored lagmen and other noodle dishes made Uyghur style, and their whole lambs were fat, popular, and two-years old. They were sold with red silk tied around their necks, their mouths stuffed with fresh caraway. Chicken was cooked with carrots and onions, mutton called polu came fried with onions, rice steamed with carrots and onions, too. Kebabs were called kawaplar and made with beef or lamb, seasoned with salt, pepper, and sesame seeds, then grilled after soaking them in milk, butter, salt, and sugar.

Here and in Taiwan they make Big Plate Chicken and called it dapanji. It is made with chili peppers, potatoes, hand-pulled noodles, and served with gravy. Some is boiled with raisons, sliced onions, carrots, small cubes of fried beef, and cubes of fat; the raisons grown and dried in Turfan and called museles.

Beverages could be horse milk which they called kymyz or xibe, and eaten with sheep entrails accompanied by dongxiang, which is a thick soup of mutton served with steamed twisted rolls. The Muslims also enjoyed roasted fish with rice as long as it was halal. The Uyghurs ate sangza or crispy twisted fried bread or baked buns called kao baozi at breakfast, and lamb yutaza, a steamed many-layered bread at other meals.

At lunch or dinner, everyone enjoyed nangbaorou which are pan-grilled lamb pies, pamirdin or baked pies stuffed with lamb, carrots, and onions, or both with kao baozi, their crispy buns filled with onion, potato, mutton, spices, and a sauce called shorpa. It is close to lamb soup.

Some people born here did tell us they enjoy kawaplar, their lamb or beef made as kebabs. These came seasoned with chili powder, black pepper, salt, and cumin. They also ate a pilaf of lamb, carrots, peppers, and rice made with lots of oil, and drank black tea, kvass, or a non-alcoholic beverage made with honey they called gewasi. This if made with nuts and honey was called matang. Many Middle-Eastern breads are loved in this region, including the one in the next column.
Nang Bing, A Local Flat Bread
1½ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1½ cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup pastry four
1 cup wheat germ
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon peanut oil
Optional are: various seeds such as sesame, nigella, fennel, ground black pepper, and/or coarse salt

1. In large bowl with a dough hook, mix yeast, salt, sugar, and 1 cup warm water, and let stand until foamy, then add a quarter cup more flour, the wheat germ, butter, and the oil and mix until dough comes together.
2. Preheat oven to 500 degree F, and insert a pizza stone. Punch the dough down, cover it, and let it rise until double in volume. Then put it on a floured surface and divide iy into four parts. Let them rest for fifteen minutes before rolling one flat and into a seven-inch circle. Put it on a floured baking sheet, and repeat until all are made and have been able to rise another half an hour.
3. Slightly prick the dough with a fork, brush with water, and sprinkle with desired seeds, then transfer to the hot stone and bake until golden, about three minutes. Then serve.

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