If you're all over double-carbs and love your lamb, then you must seek out Uyghur food.
In Australia, we have become accustomed to a certain style of Chinese food, a takeaway menu spanning the dumplings, the sizzling and the chilli. But China is home to many saliva-inducing, distinct regional cuisines and Uyghur is just one of them.
Before you start thinking it’s all Sichuan spice, guess again. The Xinjiang province (home to the Uyghurs) borders Mongolia, Russia, India and all the Stans and was the link on the Silk Road between Asia and the Middle East. As a result, Uyghur cuisine meets somewhere in the middle between central Asian and Turkic tradition, bubbling away from the melting pot of that famous trade route.
The Uyghur ethnic minority is predominately Muslim and so its cuisine is Halal, with lamb as the base of many dishes. Hand-pulled noodles, steamed buns, dumplings, spiced skewers and homemade bread are all on high demand.
The Hiwilla family opened Tarim Uyghur Restaurant five years ago in the western Sydney suburb of Auburn. Sultan and Zulfiye left behind their 20-plus years in science and teaching to migrate to Australia from the Xinjiang province in 2006. It was here where they decided to follow their food passions, opening Tarim’s to pay tribute to Uyghur food.
“Uyghur culture and its people aren’t very mainstream,” tells son and restaurant manager, Dilyar Hiwilla. “We are an insular community (not very well-known) and because of that, food is such a great way to introduce and spread one’s own culture.
"We want people to get to know the culture through food and over food.”
As the province is farthest from the sea, seafood is nowhere to be found on the menu. Rather, there are lamb-centric dishes with a few chicken and vegetable additions.
“The lamb broth is an essential part of many of our dishes and we make our broth every day,” Hiwali tells SBS. “We start preparing the broth at least two hours before opening and keep it simmering throughout the day and into the night for anywhere up to nine hours.”
Overall, the cuisine is mild with a few spicier highlights that you can customise to order. Cumin is the spice star of this show and tomatoes provide the base of many Uyghur sauces.
All the dishes at Tarim's are made fresh on site every day and unlike many of its Asian counterparts, rice takes a backseat to noodles and bread. “In Uyghur cuisine, bread and pastry is the staple,” says Hiwilla. Their goshnan is the popular meat bread that the region has become known for – a crisp, pan-fried, homemade dough filled with lamb and onion.
Their well-loved noodle dish of lagman is made by hand-pulling and blanching a simple dough, then wok-tossing the noodles in a lamb broth with cumin, chilli, lamb, capsicum and cabbage. These noodles are long, stretchy and delightfully chewy once cooked, prepared each day by Dilyar’s mother. Meanwhile, his father, Sultan, prepares the stir-fries and sauces to-order.
“Having a meal without meat isn’t necessarily common [in Uyghur cuisine] and we wanted to provide options for our customers,” Dilyar says. Any of the noodles can be made vegetarian-friendly, and the sticky eggplant and green bean dishes make for satisfying sides.
You’ll find customers dropping in for a quick bite, but we highly recommend tackling their hearty menu in groups and taking the casual tour of the Xinjiang province. With their large portion sizes, Tarim Uyghur Restaurant is the epitome of family-style comfort food that is made for sharing; if you can’t finish it, there’s a doggy bag in your future.
Tarim Uyghur Restaurant
105 Rawson Street, Auburn, NSW
Mon to Thu 5pm–9pm | Fri to Sun 11.30am–9pm