Uighur cuisine is an original memorial to the culture of the people. It synthesizes influences of the West and East, antiquity and the present, great skill, imagination, beauty and harmony of taste. Here we’d like to introduce some of the meals that are the most popular among the Uighurs.
Cold dishes could be divided into two kinds: dishes of various raw vegetables and cold dishes of boiled and fried vegetables.
Raw vegetables (radish, tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, string bean, bean sprouts, radish, cabbage, carrots, etc.) are ingredients of cold salads dressed with vinegar, hot oil, pepper and various spices. Ingredients of salads from boiled and fried vegetables are the same vegetables after heat-treating, and also meat, rice starch, and eggs.
”Gül’ Tavaq” – a flower dish – occupies a special place among cold dishes. This dish is a mix prepared from various vegetables, meat, and spices. Even though ingredients readily available determine variety of kinds of this dish, it is always a good-looking dish of chopped vegetables, fried and boiled and chopped meat. As a whole, the dish looks as a flower that consists of multi-colored petals.
First course dishes popular among the Uighurs are:
”Shova“ – various broths and soups with rice and vegetables;
“Süyuqash”, soups with noodles, of two kinds: broth and with fried sauce.
The Uighurs call these dishes “meal of the tired”, “meal – rest”. Such soups are seasoned with fresh herbs or roots. Among them:
“Qalighaç tili” – noodles in the form of a swallow’s tongue,
“Üzmä süyuqash” – a soup – tear,
“Yeip Uzup Tashlash” – a soup – tear form rolled out dough,
”Halivash“ – a soup with dough cut by large squares,
“Omach“ – a soup with grated dough.
Dough for soups can be prepared from different kinds of flour – barley, rice, wheat, and corn. The latter dish is described in “Divanu Lughat-It Türk” by Mahmut Qashqari, a prominent Uighur scholar of the 11th century, and almost has no analogues in other peoples’ cuisine. ”Omach“ has varieties, one of which is ”Sumulyak“ that is served as a funeral and memorial repast.
“Längmän” is the most favorite and popular dish of the Uighur cuisine. It includes long noodles prepared from thin strings of dough stretched from thick wisps served with a sauce. Every Uighur meal has its symbolism. This meal is referred to as a dish of love. Love should last long as the noodles are. The Uighurs prepare “längmän” of four kinds depending on seasons. In spring the sauce is prepared from spring onions, jusäy sprouts, celery and radish. In summer, cucumbers, garlic sprouts, usun, short and long kidney bean, tomatoes, green and red pepper, eggplants, garlic, onions and spring onions are added to the sauce. In autumn, the sauce includes carrots, kohlrabi, radish and turnip. In winter the sauce is prepared from dried and pickled vegetables. Also there are different kinds of “ längmän“, which vary by way of cooking, thickness of noodles, kind of a flour, etc.
”Manty“ in dish symbolism relate to a dish of the dzhigits (brave men). ”Manty“ are cooked on steam in a special cookware, which consists of sieves inserted one into another and called ”qasqan”, or a flat vessel, weaved from cane – ”jimbil“. “Manty”, as well as ravioli – ”chöşürä“, are prepared from rolled out dough with a stuffing. The dish could be prepared in a variety of ways, with different kind of dough and ingredients of a stuffing. Douhg used for manty could be both leavened and unleavened. The stuffing also could vary including gourd, meat, onions, jüsäy, fig, clover, spring onions, quince, vegetables, and etc.
”Çöşürä“ – (ravioli) are cooked for the just married the next day after the marriage and symbolizes a wish to have many kids and prosper. “ Çöşürä “ could be served as first course as well as second course dish.
The Uighurs frequently cook “polo” – pilaf. In general, this dish is the meal of guests. For a plenty of people, “polo” is cooked by “aşpäz”, specially invited cook who takes care of preparing “polo” on weddings or commemoration services. Cooking “polo” requires hefty skills. Ingredients are rice, meat, carrots and onions. Pretty often “polo” is dressed with garlic or raisin.
”Samsa“ is one of the most honored ancient Uighur dishes. It is a patty filled with ground meat and onions, gourd, vegetables and fruits. “Samsa” is cooked in “tono” – cone-shaped oven for baking bread or in a cauldron. Dough for “samsa” is kneaded depending on where it would be cooked. For example, for “tono samsa” dough is kneaded salty and stiff, for “samsa” cooked in a cauldron, dough could be flabby and not stiff, or salty and yeasty.
”Pörä“ – some kind of a fried meat pie, filled with herbs, jüsäy, clover, wheat sprouts, dill, cabbage, and coriander. The filling could be the chopped meat and onions.
“Göş nan” – meat bread – patties filled with meat and onions and baked in a cauldron.
“Olouh nan” – steam bread – a roll prepared with carrots, gourd, jüsäy, spring onions, etc.
Cooking of ”öpkä-esip“ – stuffed lights is the art itself. While slaughtering a sheep, lamb or calf, a butcher tries not to damage the lungs. Integrity of the lungs is checked by inflating them. The stuffing is prepared from the liquid dough, milk, eggs and oil, and poured through a sieve into the lungs. Then they are tied up and submersed into boiling water.
The Uighurs make bread from wheat flour, sometimes, from corn flour. Bread is usually baked in “tono” – big ovens, from leavened or yeasty dough in form of pita: large and thin – “çong nan”, small and thick – ”toğaç“. In a cauldron the Uighurs bake short puff pitas -“qatlima” from dough made on oil and cream as well as thin pancakes – ”poşqal“. On holidays people make various short pastries in a cauldron, in particular, ”sangza“. Bread baked in “tono” is considered the most nutritious, because it absorbs heat of fire. There are more than 40 (forty) ways of making bread in Uighur cuisine.
Tea occupies an important place in a diet of the Uighurs. Since the Silk Road passed through Uighur territories, tea has been known to them for considerable period of time. The Uighurs make tea in different ways and have their own tea rituals.
The Uighurs of the Semirechye (Seven River region) make tea with salt and milk – “atkän çay”. Cream, sour cream, and butter are added to it. It is served in a big bowls – “apqur çinä”. This kind of tea is very nourishing and usually the Uighurs drink it for breakfast. After rich and plentiful meal, usually black tea – “syn çay” – and sweets are served. The Uighurs from Ferghana (Uzbekistan) prefer green tea – “kök çay”.
Uighur cuisine is popular across Central Asia, and one can find Uighur restaurant in many towns and villages.