David is a HUGE foodie, I bow down to him in his knowledge of all things delicious. The first time we met I walked away with a huge list of recommendations and not enough time left in Melbourne to get through them all in. Anyway, we joined them last weekend to tick off the first place on that list: Dolan Uyghur Food Heaven.
As I'd not heard of the Uyghur people before, I did some Google research and ended up reading lots about them and their history. It's pretty fascinating and there is definitely some political unrest which needs resolving.
The Uyghurs are a Turkish ethnic group with a long history spanning thousands of years. They predominantly live in Xinjiang, China. Xinjiang (which has been an autonomous region since the 1990's) is in the north-west of China and borders 8 countries including Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstand and Afghanistan. The Uyghur people have long fought for independence and you'll often see Xinjiang named as East Turkestan. Given it's position and strategic importance as part of the historic silk route, it's no surprise that Xinjiang is home to lots of different ethnic communities.
What I really want to talk to you about though, is the food. Oh the food. This Central Asian cuisine is epitomised by handmade stretched noodles, lamb kebabs and rich, spicy sauces. As an islamic community, the food is also usually halal.
David ordered a number of dishes for us to try, all placed in the centre of the table to share. Here's what we ate:
Yangyu Tohu Kormisi
This massive plate was more than enough to feed four of us, even before the rest of the dishes came out! It's chicken, peppers and potatoes with stretched noodles. The sauce was spicy and peppery.
My only real experience of black fungus is eating it thinly sliced in ramen. This was totally different as it was the centrepiece of this salad. The texture is similar to oyster mushrooms but the taste is closer to seaweed. Tossed in an oil and vinegar dressing and peppered with raw sliced garlic and onion, the sharpness of this dish cut through the rich spice of the chicken perfectly.
These lamb kebabs were delicious. I could have eaten a whole pile to myself. Probably a relative to Turkish food, they were chargrilled and fatty. Google tells me they were probably marinaded in cumin, lemon and Szechuan peppercorns.
Beef Tongue Salad
Similar to offal was this beef tongue salad. Funnily enough, this salad in a strange way took me back to my childhood. Slices of tongue and cucumber slices in vinegar often featured on my Nanna's lunch table as part of Sunday lunch. Along with billy bear ham. What happened to that? Is it still a thing?
This tongue was nothing like I remember. though, it was tender and meaty without gristle or tough bits. The salad dressing was vinegary which of course worked perfectly with the cucumber and carrot. It was just really refreshing and totally delicious.
Also known as Uyghur meat pie, this delicious dish is a round, deep fried pie filled with spiced lamb meat. As directed by David, we ate it with soy vinegar which added a sharpness to the spiced, meaty filling.
A lot of the Uyghur cuisine focuses on offal and there are plenty of dishes to try if you're feeling brave. For example, the menu included Mizilik Kosak Kormisi (stir fried lamb tripe with chilli) and Koy Iq-Azaliri Shorpisi (lamb guts soup with heart, lung, liver and tripe).
I've not said much about the restaurant itself. To be honest, there's not much to say. It was a sparsely decorated, crowded space. The staff were helpful but busy and not overly friendly or memorable. The food did all the talking and I urge you, wherever you are, to seek out Uyghur food because you will not be disappointed.
Finally – if you want to read more about Uyghur food and travelling in the Xinjiang region of China, check out Matthew Lubin's blog: Far West China.