All posts filed under: Food

The Future Of Uyghur Cultural — And Halal — Life In The Year Of The Pig

The Chinese version of the lunar new year came early for Uyghurs in 2019. In mid-January, Uyghurs were asked to begin to write couplets describing their hopes and dreams for the year of the pig. They began practicing their lion and dragon dances. In an unverified screenshot, a Uyghur government official made a public display of dividing up pork and distributing it among villagers near the Muslim-majority town of Ghulja in celebration of the coming year. Many Uyghurs in the diaspora who I spoke with fear that the “pig” in the year of the pig will be all too literal: that this will be the year when Uyghurs in their homeland will be forced to eat pork as yet another way to perform Han-ness, along with being forced to shave off their mustaches. In late 2018, numerous reports emerged from Uyghur Chinese Communist Party members calling on Uyghurs to eat non-halal food. One personal testimony written by a Uyghur official named Shireli Behit noted that Uyghur officials who refused to eat non-halal food were “two-faced” people who were influenced …

‘As If You’ve Spent Your Whole Life In Prison’: Uyghurs Starving & Subdued

When Chinese state authorities prepared to release Gulbahar Jelil (Gulbakhar Jalilova), an ethnically Uyghur woman born and raised in Kazakhstan, they told her that she was forbidden to tell anyone about what she had experienced over the one year, three months, and 10 days in which she had been detained. She was not to mention the stench and sickness that hounded her, and pervaded her crowded cell. But most critically, the prison workers stressed that she not talk about the food she had been served. They told her to get her story straight regarding her starvation diet: She was not to mention that she and others had received only about 600 calories per day — equivalent to two or three plain bagels— and that she had lost close to 100 pounds over the course of her detention. “You will eat more food now, since you will soon be released,” they said. They told her that the food she had been given and the filth that she had lived in — a cell with an open-air toilet and 30 unwashed bodies pressed together — were a thing of the past. It was a nightmare that she should put behind her. Jelil, …

The Art of the Bazaar: A Photo Essay

Every Friday Muslim migrant men fill the streets surrounding the mosque in the Ürümchi neighborhood of Black First Mountain (Heijia Shan). They come to pray. After the noonday (zohr) prayers and straining to hear the weekly message from the imam, they tuck their rugs under their arms and buy their meat for the week. Thousands come, Uyghurs from the countryside who are in the city working as day laborers in demolition sites or hawking goods on the streets, to perform their ritual ablutions and stroll through one of Ürümchi’s last remaining bazaars. For centuries bazaars and mosques have been a linked ritual space for Muslims in Chinese Central Asia. Following the protests and subsequent violence of 2009, this neighborhood was one of the first areas targeted for urban cleansing. The degraded housing of the nearly 10,000 Uyghur migrants in the neighborhood was leveled. Each family was registered or forced to leave. Those who were not expelled from the city were offered partially-subsidized housing in newly built 20-story apartment buildings as compensation for the loss of their …

The Uyghur Restaurant Chain Herembağ comes to America

Image by fkldsjf Back in April 2015 signs of the famous Uyghur restaurant chain Herembağ (Eden/海尔巴格) began to appear on the streets of San Francisco. A few months later, a location in Fremont was opened in a renovated hot pot restaurant with promises of a third Bay-area location in San Mateo. Like their restaurant locations from Beijing to Astana, Kazakhstan, the American version of Eden serves an upscale version of the traditional Uyghur pasta, lamb and rice dishes, as well as Hui-inspired northwest specialties such as Big Plate Chicken (dapanji) and Turkish-style döner kebab. To understand how Herembağ has the ambition and resources to plan to open 10 new restaurants in North America, you have to understand how it transformed Uyghur food culture in Xinjiang. I still remember the first time I went to one of the first Herembağ restaurant locations in Ürümchi back in 2010. What was remarkable about that space on Solidarity Road was the way the interior brought the ambiance of rural Uyghur courtyard houses into an upscale dining experience. The lights …