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5 Must-Eat Xinjiang Cuisine Foods (and how to order them!)



Xinjiang Cuisine: 5 Must-Eat Foods (& How to Order Them)

January 17, 2014 | 11 Comments

Of all the great Uyghur food, Hui food, Kazakh food and Russian food there is to eat out here in western China, it amazes me that I still hear of people traveling here without fully experiencing the wonderful Xinjiang cuisine.

I admit that it can be quite confusing, especially because there is no “one place” that serves all of the Xinjiang cuisine. I’m still in the process of discovering and trying all the various restaurants just in my neighborhood, much less what is available all across Urumqi.

But since most people don’t have the luxury of time that I do, I thought it might be helpful to compile a list of the top “must-eat” foods during your short stay here in Xinjiang. Perhaps you already know some of them but I would bet you don’t know them all.

And now you’ll know what’s worth your time to try…and how to order it.

#1 DaPanJi - Big Plate Chicken - 大盘鸡

Dapanji, or "Big Plate Chicken" is great Xinjiang cuisine

Big Plate Chicken (a.k.a. 大盘鸡 - dapanji) is one of the top dishes among travelers wishing to experience great Xinjiang cuisine. Yes, you can order it at the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an or at a Xinjiang restaurant in Beijing, but trust me when I say that nothing compares to what is cooked up here in the province.

DaPanJi is often confused as a Uyghur dish, but it is in fact part of the Hui cuisine. It consists of a huge plate of potatoes, peppers, a whole chicken (including feet and sometimes the head!), and various spices.

This is a dish best served with a group, so find 4-5 local friends or fellow travelers, not only because it’s a lot of food but also because it can be quite expensive (100-150RMB per plate)

How to Order DaPanJi

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you order DaPanJi:

  • DaPanJi can often be ordered as a half plate or a full plate. The average full plate feeds 3-4 people depending on hunger.
  • Most DaPanJi is quite spicy, which I personally love. If you’re palette can’t stand fire, however, consider telling the waitress
  • There are two types of DaPanJi – dapanji and dapantuji. That latter is a bit more expensive, but the chicken is tuji, which in western terms usually means a free-range, corn-fed chicken. Much healthier.
  • Additions: To get the full experience, order some Uyghur naan to be served with the dish. Naan soaked in DaPanJi juice is incredible. Also, order a plate or two of noodles once you’re halfway through with your meal. Can’t let the good juices go to waste!
DaPanJi Phrase Guide
English: a plate of DaPanJi
Mandarin: 大盘鸡一盘 - dàpán jī yī pán
Uyghur: Magha  bir tahsa tuha kurdiki birig

#2 Uyghur Polo – Pilaf - 抓饭

Uyghur-pilaf-polo

Coming in close second on the list of “must-eat” foods as part of the Xinjiang cuisine is Uyghur Polo. Some people spell it “pollo”, “polau”, or “pilaf” but it’s all the same thing.

Uyghur Pilaf is a mixture of carrots, peppers, rice and lamb meat cooked in an unreasonable amount of oil. It takes a while to prepare so in most restaurants it is only served for lunch (although I’m noticing more and more restaurants now serving it for dinner as well).

What I love about Uyghur Pollo is that it is fast to order and usually quite cheap (10-20 RMB per plate).

How to Order Uyghur Pollo

It’s quite simple, actually – just walk into the restaurant, order, pay and eat. They will usually serve a plate of pollo with a side plate of carrots and vinegar.

Polo Phrase Guide
English: a plate of polo (a.k.a. pilaf or polau)
Mandarin: 抓饭一盘 - zhuā fàn yī pán
Uyghur: Magha bir tahsa pollo birig

#3 Kebabs – KaoRou - 烤肉

Uyghur kebabs, a staple of the Xinjiang cuisine

Although not really a meal in itself (I guess it could be?), the famous Xinjiang lamb kebab is an essential part of the Xinjiang cuisine. It can be added to most any dish that you’re ordering.

Lamb kebabs are nothing more than lamb meat on a stick, usually with alternating meat and fat pieces on the skewer. They sprinkle cumin and pepper on top as it is being cooked over a coal (more common) or wood (more authentic) fire.

When I first arrived in Xinjiang I could get kebabs for 1 kuai each, but times have changed over the past decade and they now range from 3-8 kuai each. Yikes. Luckily they’re also large so I’ll only order 2 or 3 in addition to my meal and be perfectly satisfied.

How to Order Kebabs

There aren’t too many options when it comes to kebabs, although there are a few restaurants that will serve different size kebabs (small pieces of meat vs large).

Order the kebabs along with your main dish and they’ll often come out first, an appetizers of sorts.

Kebab Phrase Guide
English: I would like {insert number} kebabs
Mandarin: {insert number} 个羊肉串 - gè yángròu chuàn
Uyghur: Magha  kawab {insert number} birig

#4 Lagman - BanMian - 拌面/拉面

Uyghur Lagman, a specialty of the Xinjiang cuisine

The term “BanMian” is actually quite a quite confusing Xinjiang cuisine name, as it seems to be used for any type of noodle dish out here. The good news is that no matter which type of BanMian you find yourself eating, you’ll probably love it.

Uyghur LaMian (a.k.a. Lagman)

The locals call the Uyghur version of BanMian Lagman, or "La mian". Simply put, it’s a cooked dish of meat, vegetables and oil poured over a plate of noodles.

It happens often when I order this dish that they bring it out to me on two plates and either pour it together in front of me or allow me to take the honors. I haven’t quite figured out why that is.

Hui BanMian

Hui noodles are most famous for their noodles, which in my opinion make the Hui banmian better than the Uyghur lamian.

Hui noodles are stretched by hand in a process that takes an incredible amount of skill. If you have a chance to watch it happen, you’ll be amazed to witness the chef take a lump of dough, stretch it, slam it on the table, twist it and repeat the process a hundred times over until it becomes thin strands of noodle.

How to Order BanMian

The unfortunate part of ordering BanMian for most foreigners is the unbelievable number of choices. The menu board from one of my favorite local Hui restaurants is just one example – they have so many options that there’s actually one that translates into “Hodgepodge” (大杂烩). Ha!

My method is to just ask the waitress which is the most popular. It’s not a question they get regularly so they may look at you weird, but often they’re more than happy to offer a suggestion.

FYI - once you order your plate it’s not uncommon for a patron to ask for more noodles. Honestly, though, take it easy on the heavy noodles. Your stomach will thank you later.

Lagman Phrase Guide
English: A plate of Lagman noodles
Mandarin: 拉面一盘 - lāmiàn yī pán
Uyghur: Man lahman ni yahxi kuriman

#5 Matang - 麻糖

Uyghur matang

Matang is one of the most popular Uyghur street foods that you can find pretty much all across China, not just in the Xinjiang province. Usually you'll see a cart with various types of matang cut and available for purchase.

Uyghur matang is made using different types of nuts readily available in Xinjiang, kept together by honey. It's a sweet snack that will get stuck in your teeth...but you'll love it!

It's really no use trying to list out the different types of matang that you could purchase since there are so many, so just choose your favorite nut (almond, walnut, cashew, etc) and get that bar.

How to Order Uyghur Matang

Not much to it. Just choose the amount you want - anything from a small sample slice to a large bar - and pay the vendor. Here's how you would say what you want in both Uyghur and Mandarin:

Matang Phrase Guide
English: I would like some Matang.
Mandarin: 我想要麻糖 - wǒ xiǎngyào mátáng
Uyghur: Mgha matag birig

Other Xinjiang Food Resources:

Leave a Comment

  1. Fun post. Just as an FYI, “manga,” with “ng” representing one sound, might be a more straightforward and helpful way to transliterate the word. “Magha” doesn’t really make much sense, or look/sound at all like what the word in Uyghur actually is.

    Also, a more idiomatic–and easier for new (or non-) speakers–way to order in Uyghur is “[name of dish/item] din/tin [quantity/weight (ni)”:

    Kawap tin besh (ni) – Five kabobs
    Dapanji din bir (ni) – One dapanji (most Uyghurs just say dapanji)
    Samsi din tot (ni) – Four samsa (with slight change in pronunciation of “samsa” because of vowel reduction)

    And so on. One can add “alay” (meaning “I should,” but here functioning as “I’d like, please”) to the end of any order to be polite. “Kawap tin tot ni alay.” But it’s not necessary.

    [Reply]

    EMA on January 18th, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Oh, and I meant to add: one, “manga kawap (number) bering” is an ungrammatical statement and sounds strange. I imagine a native speaker would have trouble knowing what it meant (though, fair, someone in food service would probably figure it out). Two, “men laghman ni yaxshi korimen” means “I like laghman” (as in “I’m fond of this dish,” NOT “I *would* like laghman,” which again would happen with the “alay” I mention above). That statement would in no way would help one procure a plate of laghman Ina Uyghur restaurant.

    Not trying to be rude, but you’re spreading misinformation, which often happens when you venture into Uyghur and Uyghur-language stuff.

    [Reply]

    Josh on January 19th, 2014 at 1:22 am

    Not rude at all. I’ll see what I can do to get it all corrected. I don’t speak Uyghur well yet, which is why I had a local friend help me out. It sounds to me like she didn’t completely understand my meaning when we put this together.

    Again, thanks for the comment! I’m not trying to teach the Uyghur language, just want to make it easier for those traveling here (and I can’t help people if I hand out misinformation!)

    EMA on January 20th, 2014 at 1:32 am

    Cool. After I posted I felt even more concerned that my tone was a bit rude, so thanks for taking it so well. And my typos/errors . . . Ugh. I was typing on a tablet at 2:00am XJ time, while waiting for some important things to upload to Dropbox, and looks like that made me struggle with English.

    I can absolutely see where an English learner wouldn’t quite catch the important difference between “I’d like laghman” and “I like laghman.”

    For what it’s worth, I’d be happy to look over little Uyghur-language blurbs like this in the future if you want another set of eyes/expertise on something. My Uyghur isn’t at the elusive near-native level, but I’ve been studying for a long time and speak/read/write/translate/etc. at a high level. You can see my email address from the comment I left, yeah? Also, I’m in XJ at the moment and will be here for at least another year.

    Josh on January 20th, 2014 at 2:38 am

    Thanks, EMA! I’ll definitely take you up on that.

  2. Great post Josh. I would only encourage readers to try one more Xinjiang dish – 烤包子 (kao baozi): a thin-crusted bun (not doughy, more like thin pie crust), browned and crispy on the outside, filled with onion, potato, chunks of mutton, spices and a savory sauce. It is just heaven. Our local Xinjiang restaurant in Beijing typically runs out of these within a half hour after making them.

    [Reply]

    Josh on January 27th, 2014 at 1:17 am

    I completely agree, Michael! In Uyghur they call this dish “Samsa” and it’s absolutely delicious.

    I wrote a whole article on this Xinjiang food here.

    [Reply]