Friday, February 27, 2009

A Chinese-Muslim Eatery in Shanghai

1. Soup with cabbage, carrots, fungus strips of rice flour and quail's egg
2. Flat bread with mutton, capsicum, carrot and onion gravy as topping
3. Stretching dough for the handmade noodles

4. Grilling mutton kebabs over a charcoal fire

There are about 27 million Muslims in China-more than the population of Malaysia, Taiwan or Australia. The Uighur, Tartar, Uzbek, Tajik and Hui live mostly in the provinces that border Central Asia and Tibet, in the provinces of Xinjiang, Gansu, Ningsia and Qinghai. Except for the Hui they are distinguishable from the real Chinese, the Han; having a more Mongolian look with deeply slanted eyes and a more stocky body. Their food is different too, and mutton forms a large part of their diet- a testimony to their nomadic past on the steppes. In Shanghai, I found a small Muslim eatery next to my hotel, and it was a 24-hour joint, the Uighur family that owned it working in two shifts. The clear soup above was flavored with bits of mutton, and was a refreshing change from their usually solid and meaty meals. In image 2, the gravy that comprises carrot, onion, capsicum and mutton was poured over the flat bread which had been sliced pizza-style , and the then soggy bread eaten with the hands. A young Muslim boy is seen stretching the dough for handmade noodle. Noodles are served plain with a black-bean sauce, onion sauce or with minced mutton. Behind the boy, you can see in the background, a picture of a Mosque. In the last image, a young Muslim girl is grilling cubes of mutton skewed on bamboo sticks. Quite similar to Turkish kebabs.
Unlike the cusine of the Han Chinese, the food of the Chinese Muslim ethnic minorities lacks variety and sophistication. It is not possible to eat it everyday as as nearly every dish has mutton in it and after a while the smell permeates your clothes and even your body sweat. The customers of this eatery are lower-income menial workers who find the prices on the menu conforting. A big bowl of steaming hot noodles costs less than $US1.50 and makes for a substantial meal even to a construction worker. Strangely, the eatery doesn't sell any drinks but gives you a bowl of boiled water with no spoon. In the steppes the nomadic nature of life does not allow for the carrying of unnecessary utensils like spoons and chopsticks, so nomads drink directly from bowls.

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