Chinese Name: 烤包子 (kǎo bāozi)
Alternate Names: Roast Dumplings, Baked Uyghur Pies
Description: A mixture of mutton, onions, (sometimes carrots) and spices encased in a thin, baked crust.
Xinjiang “Hot Pockets”
Back in the day my mom used to keep a box of frozen food known as “Hot Pockets” in the freezer ready to fight my insatiable appetite. It was never quite enough for a full meal, but it would keep me out of the kitchen long enough for her to cook a full-blown dinner. If I remember right there were different flavors like broccoli and cheese, chicken and cheese, beef and onions, and maybe even pepperoni pizza. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think they ever thought of adding “lamb” as a flavor.
“Samsa” reminds me so much of those hot pockets. The hot, flaky crust filled with a tender meat stuffing doesn’t look as commercially-made, but it tastes a whole lot better.
It’s a Brick Oven, Not a Microwave
Many times you’ll find Samsa stands right next to stands that sell Uyghur bread, and the reason for this (I guess) is because the ovens used to cook them are almost identical. Wide at the base with a narrow opening, these brick ovens are heated with either coal or wood, whichever is more readily available in that particular region. Inside, the oven walls are curved and smooth.
After the stuffing is prepared it is then wrapped in a dough and placed inside the oven to roast for about 20 minutes. It’s kind of cool to see about 15-20 of these suckers just stuck to the side of the oven wall, their skin browning to different degrees depending on the thickness. It doesn’t give off as strong a smell as the neighboring Uyghur bread stand but it still smells enticing.
Personally, I like an occasional Samsa as a snack on my way home, but not very often. They’re a bit oily (I find that everything that uses lamb sits heavy in the stomach), but on the up side they’re dirt-cheap. Usually only 1 RMB per Samsa. From what I can gather, you don’t eat them as a meal by themselves but as an addition to a rice or noodle dish (such as “Pollo“). I can only eat about one or two before my stomach tells me I’ve ingested enough oil for the day. Still, my mouth reminds me it wasn’t all bad.