Meet The Uyghurs
October 28, 2015 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Kevin Kelly spent two weeks in Xinjiang (East Turkestan) in far west China. “This area has more in common with the culture of Turkey than with Beijing. It's kebab with chopsticks. But this is really China. In fact it is the largest province of China.“ Here are 120 photos of the "Silk Road".
Kevin Kelly loves to travel: Read the “Previous Lives“ part on his bio. 
KK's Asia travels on Metafilter before, here and here.

posted by growabrain (36 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
They need captions -- something, anything to give context.. I can appreciate the pretty pictures, but with out knowing anything else, well, it's empty.
posted by k5.user at 1:18 PM on October 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

OK. Yeah. I'm with k5.user, certainly lacks context. I spent 2 weeks in Xinjiang too, but I'm not really sure what's going on here.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:27 PM on October 28, 2015

These towers remind me of Persian windtowers? Beautiful.
posted by symbioid at 1:29 PM on October 28, 2015

I'm digging the heavy emphasis on bread. That shit looks good!
posted by jessssse at 1:32 PM on October 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Anyone where this photo's taken?
posted by Gyan at 1:45 PM on October 28, 2015

I'm digging the heavy emphasis on bread. That shit looks good!
I've never been to Xinjiang, but based on experience with Uighur restaurants in the SF Bay Area you're not wrong -- the breads are delicious.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:48 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Xinjiang is the largest province by area but contains less than 2% of China's population! It's like China's Alaska.
posted by Justinian at 1:51 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Probably Kanas, Gyan.
posted by klue at 1:54 PM on October 28, 2015

Anyone where this photo's taken?

Possibly Tian Shan?

I was wondering if the bagel-looking breads are similar to simit, which you can buy from vendors on many street corners in Istanbul.
posted by aught at 1:55 PM on October 28, 2015

That makes more sense, actually. Doesn't look like he ventured that far north from the rest of the pictures.
posted by klue at 1:57 PM on October 28, 2015

If you like his context-less photos, I see that he's posted a recent gallery of photos taken in Lhasa, Tibet, as well.
posted by aught at 2:00 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can't say enough good things about Uyghur cuisine. It's like someone decided to take the best parts of Middle East and East Asian food for the express purpose of blowing your mind.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 2:04 PM on October 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

These photos are amazing.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:08 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

"Metafilter's own"
posted by growabrain at 2:09 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Photo 15 looks like the Emin minaret. The knives in photo 96 are Yengisar knives. They're traditional Uyghur knives and the handles are often super ornate and the blades are super high quality. We were told that every single one in a shop we went to (that looked a lot like the one in the photo) was handmade and therefore unique. If they are handmade they should have the crafter's name etched into the flat side of the blade.

I worked in this general region--flew into Beijing, then to Urumqi, then to Kashgar. It's amazing how you can be In China and absolutely nowhere near where you needed to go. I think from Beijing it was an additional 8-10 hours in the air but I might be a little off on that.

In Kashgar the Uyghur presence is pretty much dominant, but there were a lot of Han Chinese and Tajik there as well. Apparently in Uyghur culture it is beyond offensive to blow your nose in front of people (sorry, I had either allergies or a really bad cold) and I had to go outside. Burping's also really rude, which is interesting when compared to Han Chinese culture, because that's straight up encouraged and it's kind of rude when you don't. There's a lot of Tajik residents and restaurants there as well and they, apparently, were totally fine with it.

Oh look, I found an article on manners if you have a Uyghur host I definitely broke the leg crossing rule.

The bread is really good, and you can get them outside of a lot of mosques. You'll eat it stale if there's leftovers though, but you'll dunk it in tea and it's still pretty good. And the kebabs are AWESOME. Some of the best food I have ever eaten was there, no joke, although I think it was actually Tajik--mutton on a bed of noodles, yogurt, some kind of stiff dumpling with sesame seeds, and of course tea. (self link: I found the photo I took of it)

I was trying to find another link with more context and stumbled across these photos as well.

Xinjiang is a really beautiful place, and the people were so nice. We went up some valleys pretty far where the populations were mostly Uyghur and invariably we'd be invited in, given yogurt and milk, treated to tea (which usually culminated in us buying a goat). I might try to find some photos of the people I met. In the more remote areas they really loved digital cameras and being able to immediately see the photos you took, we sent some prints back to them after we'd gone back to Beijing (also, there was no real 'address'--we just wrote their name and the nearest town (Tashkurgan)... not really a place where you need a mailbox on the side of the road).
posted by nogoodverybad at 2:09 PM on October 28, 2015 [18 favorites]

Photo #25 and #46 are from Tuyoq, some other probably from Grape Valley.
posted by klue at 3:02 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

The lamb, the grapes, the bread!

They make these delicious green raisons there. Instead of sun drying the raisons, they air dry them in these specially made drying huts, which are shaded but have lattice-type walls for circulation. This retains the fruity flavour and fragrance of the raisons that you don't get with sun dried raisons which turn yellow in the sun and are just kind of sweet. If you ever get a chance, try some, sometimes you can get them in chinese supermarkets. The wine on the other hand, is abysmal, but I think that's mostly a newish venture and they're making it for the chinese/tourist market.

I have one of those handmade knives, its really cool. Travelling around the country on trains with it did cause some issues, but luckily I had them write me up a receipt for it that said that it was a decorative souvenir.

I'm a huge fan of lamb and i was basically in lamb heaven.
posted by captaincrouton at 3:04 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I want a picture of Donald Trumps face when someone tells him there are Muslim Chinese, if we could just get one to pose wearing a sombrero I'm sure we could cause a stroke, at least a small one.

We haver a halal Chinese restaurant here, it is so great. My favourite dish is lamb and tofu hotpot; A bubbling cauldron of lamb, dense tofu in a savoury broth (it's the MSG that makes it good!) all on a base of fresh almost fermented cabbage, aka saurkraut. It's the most umami thing on earth.
posted by Keith Talent at 3:29 PM on October 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

Now I want to go! Great pictures, very fascinating. Can you go along the silk route and enter that way?
posted by mumimor at 3:51 PM on October 28, 2015

I was wondering about the guy with the shiny teeth in the first photo: I expect a lot of the coating would get knocked off and he'd end up swallowing it. He must have piles of gold.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:26 PM on October 28, 2015

I remember seeing the Silk Road documentary crew welcomed to a Uyghur school by the children circling each person and dancing, 'the traditional method of greeting'.

One more mind blowing thing from that documentary!

I always think of those dancing children when I hear of the Chinese subjugation of the Uyghur.
posted by asok at 5:18 PM on October 28, 2015

I can't say enough good things about Uyghyr cuisine. It's like someone decided to take the best parts of Middle East and East Asian food for the express purpose of blowing your mind.

One of my exes spent a year and a half in China on language study, and maintained that Uyghyr food was the best 4am-after-a-night-at-a-bar drunk food on earth.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:03 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Really enjoyed this pics, love the non-insane processing, thanks for sharing..
posted by smoke at 6:51 PM on October 28, 2015

When I was in Beijing I used to visit the Uyghur part of town almost every day for a meal. They were warm and kind people and their food was (as is mentioned by others) amazing. When the professor heard that's where a bunch of students were going, she said, "Don't go there, those people are dangerous!"

To which I cowardly failed to reply, "Oh, really? Conquer your entire country and then send in colonists, did they?"
posted by 1adam12 at 7:16 PM on October 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'm fairly sure this region is colonized by China, so I would be contentious about calling it "Really big part of China" as if it was always a fact. tension, repression, and discrimination, china's uyghurs under threat
posted by yueliang at 7:48 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

mumimor: Can you go along the silk route and enter that way?

You can! The most spectacular crossing is at the Torugart Pass, but it requires a lot of patience and a little luck thanks to bureaucratic and political complexities.
posted by xthlc at 8:35 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

I love Xinjiang. Seeing those big, long rows of trees brings back memories. I traveled there for a few weeks back in 2007 and fell in love with the region and especially the food. I love the food so much I ended up learning how to cook it at home (to shamelessly self-promote, here's my Central Asian cooking blog).

I got so interested in Central Asia that I went back to the region this summer, to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan reminds me of Xinjiang in a lot of ways - the terrain and climate is very similar; the people speak closely related languages; the food is very similar. Uzbekistan is basically Xinjiang if the Soviets had taken it over instead of the Chinese (and they actually came awful close to doing so in the 1930s). One thing I found interesting is that the entire concept of being an "Uzbek" or "Uyghur" or "Kyrgyz" was basically invented by the Soviets. Centuries ago people might have identified themselves with the town they lived near (e.g. Kashgar, Turfan, Hotan) but the idea of breaking different people into "nations" distinct from others was basically imposed by the Soviets (and later adopted by the Chinese). Sadly, in the post-Soviet era that has led to the splintering of Central Asia - most of the Stans have horrible relations with each other and super strict border controls.

But back to food. I have never had nan bread anywhere in the world like in Xinjiang. I've tried countless times to replicate it at home and gotten a decent version considering I don't have a tandyr oven - but let's be clear, it still pales in comparison to the real thing. Even in other Central Asian countries the nan bread is just not the same.

I also liked Uyghur food the best out of all the food I've had in Central Asia. Nowhere else has laghman quite as good, although Kyrgyzstan has some very good Uyghur restaurants (maybe owing to their proximity to the Chinese border).

In the more remote areas they really loved digital cameras and being able to immediately see the photos you took, we sent some prints back to them after we'd gone back to Beijing (also, there was no real 'address'--we just wrote their name and the nearest town (Tashkurgan)...

I too met some people near Tashkurgan who I sent pictures to! They were Kyrgyz who would take their herds up to the mountain pastures in the summer. I exchanged emails for a while.
posted by pravit at 8:40 PM on October 28, 2015 [8 favorites]

This Dangerous Roads website above is rad!
posted by growabrain at 9:46 PM on October 28, 2015

I love your cooking blog, pravit. There used to be a great "Muslim China Restaurant" in Rowland Hgt. which served great food, but now they changed.
posted by growabrain at 10:05 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Blog bookmarked, pravit
posted by mumimor at 2:32 AM on October 29, 2015

pravit, your blog is great. I'm vegetarian but I was up reading it all night anyway.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:19 AM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I too met some people near Tashkurgan who I sent pictures to! They were Kyrgyz who would take their herds up to the mountain pastures in the summer. I exchanged emails for a while.

This made me inexplicably really excited and I was all maybe we met the same (semi-nomadic) family! Up one of the many valleys! Possibly! Not entirely ridiculous... right? In retrospect though I think the people we met were in Waqia Valley (another self-link, I hope that's ok) just one bump east from Tashkurgan, which was comparatively lush, probably due to better water/more consistent water sources (there are still plenty of glaciers up tributary valleys) and pretty aggressive irrigation.

There were usually kind of subtle differences in the ways Tajik and Uyghur people dressed there. Tajik men and women usually wore more plain-colored clothes, always with suit/button-down jackets (women's pulled over their dresses which I thought actually looked really cool), and always, always with hats (the womens' had shawls on them).

The trees in rows really hit me hard too. We were directed to a checkpoint once in Taheman--to my knowledge this is an area where you have to have a Chinese escort if you're a foreigner, and security is very tight, maybe moreso of a thing if you're working there but I think it applies to tourists too, considering even we weren't technically supposed to take photos because if you go far enough up a valley you could either be in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, or Pakistan/India--that was down a long road lined with those trees. I think the police station was the nicest place in town, honestly.

There was one town we were going through on the way back to Kashgar from Tashkurgan along the Highway 314 and I wish I could remember where it was. They had shut the entire main street down. Apparently it was some kind of event, so we were redirected along those back streets, which were all lined with those trees. It was getting towards the end of the day and the light was really soft and warm coming between the trunks with green fields on either side. We ended up ditching the car once we were out of traffic to see what was going on. Gropus of men on horses, dressed up like at a special sporting event. And there was a big crowd. I really wonder if it wasn't going to be a game of Buzkashi but we had to skip town before anything happened, which is a shame because I would've liked to see it.

(pravit, thank you so much for your blog. I'm not great at cooking but this gives me a chance to try to recreate some amazing food)
posted by nogoodverybad at 8:14 AM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Thanks for the kind words on the blog. NYC has some great Central Asian restaurants as well - only one that specifically does Uyghur food that I know of, Cafe Kashkar, but there are a ton of Uzbek places in Brighton Beach and Rego Park.

nogoodverybad: that is some nice looking food! I don't think it was the same people though, I met some people who were tending herds near a glacier by Karakul lake, along the road from Kashgar to Tashkurgan.

My tree rows memory is from Niya/Minfeng, a little town right on the edge of the Taklamakan desert. We spent some time there waiting for the bus that would take us through the desert and back up to Urumqi.

I also remember riding the long distance bus between cities on the southern Silk Road, on the Kashgar - Yengisar - Yarkand - Karghilik - Hotan route. The desert land between the cities was utterly barren ground, not even shrub bushes growing, no sand dunes, just flat empty dirt & gravel. And then you'd see these far-off clusters of tall trees like little dark green islands.
posted by pravit at 3:58 PM on October 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Pravit - I'm getting all up in your blog, but where are the quantities? I wanna try making this stuff, but I don't know how much flour and such to use.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:52 AM on October 31, 2015

I'm really bad with measuring quantities, but shoot me a PM or email with the specific recipe and I can help. If you're making dough for example, the consistency matters more than the exact proportion of flour and water (which will probably depend on the type of flour you use, how many eggs, etc); I usually just make a big pile of flour and then add enough water kneading until the dough feels right.
posted by pravit at 12:25 PM on November 1, 2015

Another foodie traveler
posted by growabrain at 3:07 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Halloween with A Toddler: Fiction vs Fact   |   What is Jeff? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments