October 03, 2010

REAL Chinese Fusion Food

Spicy Uighur Street Meat and Buttered Naan.

As a mom, I look back on all the travel I experienced--apart from my family--before ever graduating from high school, and wonder if I'll be as brave as my parents to entrust my children in the hands of a non-profit organization in some developing nation? Hmmm...

No, my parents were not inattentive loons. They were always watchful and wise. This is how it all went down.

At age 14, I asked my parents if I could go on a trip overseas. I had all the information ready to hand them, and large pleading eyes fixed on their faces. They looked over the pamphlets. After discovering the cost was over $2700, they relaxed and casually stated I could go as long as I could raise the money. I'm sure they thought that would defuse the situation.

They knew my persistent nature, but completely underestimated my level of resolve. After several months of car washes, candy bar sales, and an assortment of other fund raisers, I was purchasing my Maleria pills and packing my bags...off to India!

After that I was hooked! Every summer through high school and college, an international adventure took place. At age 17, I spent a summer in China.

The China I know, is far different from what most tourists experience. Yes, we walked on the Great Wall, visited Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City, and traveled down the Silk Road.

But we were there to study. Our group stayed in the North Western province of Xinjiang, in a city called Urumqi. Every day we took Mandarin language classes and Chinese History. Yet we also studied a second language, Uighur (or uyghur).

The Uighur language is spoken by, and named after, a select Turkish ethnic group in this far-removed area of China. The Uighur people are thought to be one of the oldest cultures in China, settling heavily in the North-west corner centuries ago. More recently, families have crossed over the Kazakhstan-China boarder in hope of a better life. The language, culture and food in Xinjiang province is extremely different from that of most other Chinese provinces. A delicate mingling of Chinese and Middle-Eastern thought and tradition.

We made friends by visiting the local university's "English Clubs" where students would meet to practice their English. You can imagine how excited they were when we showed up to chat.

Visiting dorms and apartments to hang out with our new friends; several girls taught me how to make traditional pork dumplings and various rice dishes. On another occasion, we taught them how to make fried chicken and home fries! That was my first experience dealing with a whole, head-and-all chicken!

Most of the food we ate was street food. This is where the Uighur culture took center stage. I can still see the bustling streets filled with vibrant colors, and vividly recall the noisy bantering, and fragrance of exotic spices simmering in hot oil. Freshly squeeze pomegranate juice, mutton with large, doughy stir-fired noodles, rice pilaf dishes, and naan with meat-on-a-stick were common fare! The street vendors were always happy to share their goods and educate us on their dishes.

I could truly go on and on about my experiences that summer, but I'll have to save the rest for another post, or we'd never get to the recipes! I'm STILL practicing slinging my noodles into submission, like they do in China. So for now, I'll share Uighur street meat and naan.

The meat used at these lively street carts was always mutton, or old goat, they would tell us. The fat was considered the choice cut, so each skewer was laced with a pattern of small morsels of meat and fat cubes. The skewers were then sprinkled with spice and grilled over open flames. As I don't have access to old goat, I often use well-marbled lamb steaks or beef chuck to replicate the fatty flavor.

The naan bread was cooked in a tandoori oven (or something like it) but was either a soft, bubbly oval, or a crisp, glossy circle--depending on which vendor you chose. After AMPLE naan sampling that summer, I determined I was partial to the soft, fold-able version.

Naan Disclaimer~ There are many variations in naan recipes. In some, eggs, milk, and baking powder are used. In others, yeast and yogurt. I am not a naan expert, but after many, MANY trials, this is the naan closest to what I remember. Sorry to naan purists that reject yeast! ;)


Spicy Uighur Street Meat and Buttered Naan

2 lbs. lamb chops or beef chuck
1 Tb, olive oil
1 Tb. cumin
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 tsp. salt
Wooden skewers, soaked in water 30+ minutes

Soak the wooden skewers in water for at least 30 minutes. Prepare grill to high heat. Cut the meat into 1 inch cubes and place in a bowl.

Add the next 5 items and massage into the meat. Place the lamb/beef cubes onto the skewers.

Grill the skewers 3 minutes per side--turning once.

Soft Uighur Naan

1 ½ Tb. dry active yeast
2 tsp. sugar
¾ cup warm water
3 ½ cups bread flour
2 tsp. salt
2 Tb. melted butter + extra for serving
½ cup plain yogurt

Attach the bread hook to your electric mixer. Add the yeast, sugar, and warm water to the mixing bowl and allow it to foam for 5 minutes.

Add the salt, butter and yogurt. Then slowly add the flour to the mixture. Allow the mixer to “knead” your dough for 5 minutes.

Oil the mixing bowl, then cover and let the dough rise until doubled in size—1-2 hours.

Preheat the oven AND two oiled pans to 450 degrees F. Baking stones work best! Dump the dough onto a floured surface. Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces.

Use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough into large ovals—about the length and size of a large shoe!

Place the ovals on parchment paper to rest. Once all the dough in ready, brush the tops with oil or melted butter and place on the HOT baking sheets.

Bake for 3-4 per side—flipping once. Serve warm, brushed with melted butter!

*You could add chopped garlic or a variety of seeds to the naan dough for variation!

Feeds 4-6.



  1. You're the second person I know who learned Uighur! A dear friend from college had learned it. This is a fantastic recipe - thanks! I admit - Indian-Chinese fusion food is terrific.

  2. What amazing travel experiences you've had! The naan and those skewers look amazing, thanks for sharing these special recipes!

  3. Wow, I've never had Uighur dishes before, but this looks great. And you were one determined kid!

  4. Traveling opens up your horizon. I hope that I will be as brave as your parents and mine with my children. I imagine it is very hard to let them travel so far away, especially at a younger age. What wonderful experiences you must have collected.
    This is a great dish that also a lot of Mediterranean countries serve in different variations. You can find an old goat anywhere.
    Thanks for sharing your travels and recipe!

  5. Wow...I never had it before clearly I'm missing big time, I love the spices combination and that naan bread looks delicious. Have a great week.

  6. What an amazing meal! I too traveled extensively during high school (spent most of my time in Africa) and I don't know if I will be nearly as brave with my own children as my parents were with me. I had some friends that visited this region of the world, and they brought back so many amazing stories. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  7. My parents were open minded too and let me travel as well. But I must admit that things were a little bit different back then. I know the precious knowledge one gets from traveling. It makes you see things under a totally different perspective. I wish I will have the strwngth to le my son do the same thing. Your dish looks absolutely fantastic!

  8. When I was in college a roommate and I backpacked across Europe and made a pit stop in Africa...we decided before we went that we would not tell our parents until we got back since they had sort of forbidden us to go. It ended up being safe and one of our coolest experiences! Although, when I have kids I would def. not be happy with them if they did the same. We love to eat naan in our house and I am tempted to try this recipe. Sounds great!

  9. What great adventures you had! I'm so envious :) I did travel around the country a bit, and to Europe, but I've never traveled Asia, and would love to.

  10. I love this post- especially the background story. I think I need to try your naan recipe :)

  11. I hope my children (when I have them) can have similar experiences. I think it's great you had a family that supported your adventurous spirit.

  12. That is a dish I adore and make! Yours looks delicious. Fusion food, indeed!



  13. Found you via mom bloggers club, and am your newest twitter follower. Hope to see you by my blog too.

    I have 3 blogs, you can follow all 3 or pick the one that best suits you.

    Twitter: tawna6988
    Grab m blog buttons and leave me a comment to grab yours back!
    You can follow me on FB too, like my FB page from one of my blogs and let me know if you have a FB too.

    If you grab my blog buttons leave me a comment and I will grab yours back and paste to my blogs. If you grab all 3 of mine, I will put your button on all 3 of my blogs!


  14. We love kebabs. And i have some meat in teh freezer that will be perfect!

  15. Hey Sommer! Wow, you were an adventurous kid! I always worked for my $$ too, but I was a horder (smile). Funny though, as I did end up spending a lot of my teenage earned money in Europe.
    Ooh, and this street meat sounds wonderful. It actually also reminds me of Algerian food. I guess the Turkish influence here makes sense, as they affected North Africa's cuisine too...
    p.s. your photos here are stellar!

  16. sounds like you have had quite the adventures! No wonder your recipes are so eclectic and cultured!

  17. love homemade naan this is a lovely meal

  18. What a fascinating story! I had no idea you were a traveler at heart. And judging from the pictures above, I'm sure we agree street food is the best part of travelling :)

  19. What an amazing experience! You were an adventurer even at 17! And this naan looks amazing.

  20. wow that place sounds absolutely amazing how cool and amazing skill in the kitchen
    good for your parents for letting you go hope Jasmine wants to will call you


  21. How wonderful to travel when your young and what a great kid to raise your own money...I bet your parents were proud..I love this kinda of food, street food is so comforting and fuss free...great ingridients and perfect balance of flavors...great recipes, I lov eyour naan...

  22. What great experiences you must of had - enough to give you a life time of memories! Your recreation looks delicious! Much better than old goat...

  23. Great post and story...this dish looks so fun and I am sure is delicious :)

  24. Mmmm, looks delicious. That's awesome that you got to spend the summer in China at that age. When I was 18, I spent a month in France and it was such a GREAT experience.

  25. wow, that bread looks amazing. i never was an exchange student or traveled abroad but it is definitely an experience i want my children to have.

  26. You were very fortunate to have those experiences. I would love to try this dish. It looks marvelous!

  27. Wow Sommer! What amazing experiences! I would love for my children to have the opportunity to do this one day.

    Your uigher looks really tasty!

  28. What a fabulous childhood you had! Traveling the world by age 14!? I'm jealous.. China is still a country I'd like to make my way too.. some day :) In the mean time I might just have to eat your delicious food!

  29. Mmmm! Looks YUMMY!

    Hi! Stopping by from MBC. Great blog.
    Have a nice day!

  30. It was nice to read your experience and the naan n the meat looks awesome.

  31. Wow, you certainly were an adventurous teenager. This looks so good. I couldn't eat the naan but the street meat looks delicious!

  32. I admire your commitment to raising the money and traveling. What amazing experiences you must have had. This food sounds incredible. Street food is always the best.

  33. your stories are really interesting.thank you for sharing this.

  34. You certainly were an adventurous teen and an intrepid traveler! I'm sure your experiences have shaped your personal and culinary life. Thanks for sharing your stories and these two delicious recipes - I love naan, but have never tried to make it myself.

  35. I am so impressed by your travels at such a yound age. What amazing and unforgettable experiences you have now! This is a fantastic dish--I love how authentic it is!

  36. What a travel experience you've had. The food looks amazing. This is a fantastic dish! Great post! I really enjoyed reading your journey.

  37. This sounds delicious and I love all the photos!

  38. You've had (and have) a truly enviable life! The naan and meat skewers both look totally mouthwatering! Last week I learned that traditional naan (it kinda shocked me) does not contain yeast, but yeasted naan is the only kind I've ever eaten and I LOVE it!

  39. This looks incredible. I love the butterd naan and the spices on the meat. Somethign that is surely very comforting for me. Delicious! Lovely tot ravel so much too....

  40. wow...you have even been to Xinjiang and at 17!!! Very impressive.
    The kebabs and naan are great together!

  41. What adventures you must have had every summer. It must be exciting to be off the beatentrack.

    This meal looks fantastic. Your pictures are gorgeous - very sharp and focused!

  42. The naan and skewers (hard to find old goat) look fabulous - the stories and your experiences are delectable.

  43. I adore naan, truly a wonderful story and fantastic dish!

  44. This looks yummy.
    That Naan, can it be made with wheat powder?


I love to hear your thoughts! Thanks for taking the time. If you have a question, I'll get back to you ASAP!