All posts filed under: Food

‘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 …

The Uyghur Migrant Food Network

When young people come to Ürümchi to work or study they are often supported by a whole network of people from their home village. They rely on relatives and friends to help them find jobs and help them get on their feet. But there are some things that their hosts in the city cannot provide: they can’t give their young visitors food from their home village. It is perhaps for this reason that young Uyghurs have developed a food shipping system that brings the tastes of the countryside into the city. This food arrives in boxes shipped in the cargo hold of sleeper buses from southern Xinjiang. What first began as a side-business for a store called Lukman at the South Ürümchi Bus Station has become a full-fledged shipping network across the oases of the South. Lukman handles thousands of boxes of nuts, raisins, pomegranates, cooked meat and special kinds of naan sent from the kitchens of concerned mothers to their sons and daughters across the desert. The boxes are marked with the name of …