Soman is my absolute favorite Uyghur food. I have never been able to find it outside of China, and today I made it for the first time. It’s been nine years since I’ve eaten it!
Soman goes by a few names – sometimes just “soman”, sometimes “din din soman”, in Central Asia “дын-дын цомян”, and in Chinese 丁丁炒面(ding ding chao mian – literally “stir fried noodle cubes”). It’s essentially the same dish as lagman (recipe here), but the noodles are chopped up into little cubes before cooking. You get lots and lots of little noodle pieces that you can pick up and eat with a spoon – the closest analogue in Western cuisine is the German spaetzle. Despite being similar to lagman, it’s really a completely different eating experience!
As with lagman, the dish can be served in a stew, or stir fried with the toppings. This recipe is for the stew version, but the stir fried one is simple – just put less water in your sauce, then add the soman noodles after cooking and stir fry everything for a bit.
How to make the soman
The general process I follow is: 1) make the dough and rest it 2) do all the prep for the lagman 3) coil the dough into noodles 4) cook the lagman sauce and let simmer 5) chop up the noodles and cook them 6) serve.
The first few steps are exactly the same as in the laghman recipe. My only extra tip is to make sure your dough is not too dry, and that you don’t leave it out for too long. Soman is usually a bit thicker than lagman, and if it dries out, it’s possible for the center to not cook through.
1) After coiling the noodles, brush them well with oil and put them in the fridge for a bit. When you are ready to chop the noodles, start uncoiling the dough pieces and stretch each one out into a basic noodle shape. With soman, you don’t have to be as careful about making your noodles uniformly round & thin like lagman. Using a knife, start chopping the dough into little cubes. Pile the cubes up on an oiled plate.
Chopping the noodles can take much longer than it seems. Try not to pile too many noodle cubes onto one plate, and put the plates into the fridge when full. Otherwise, the noodle pieces can end up sticking and melting together if you leave them for too long.
2) Boil a pot of water and pour all your noodle pieces in! You may find that the noodle pieces have ended up sticking together and to the plate in one big mass of dough. Don’t fret – if you oiled them enough in the coiling stage, they should come apart in the boiling water. Use chopsticks to poke around in the noodles and make sure they separate and don’t stick to the bottom.
3) After the water returns to a rolling boil for a few minutes, try the noodles. They should be al dente. Quickly remove all the noodles, place in a sieve, and briefly rinse in cold water and toss.
How to make the stew
The stew is the same as in the lagman recipe, but make sure you chop every ingredient (meat, vegetables) into a cube shape. The whole idea behind this dish is that everything is chopped up so you can eat it with a spoon.
When the stew is done, plate the soman noodles and generously ladle the stew over it, making sure each plate has a good amount of sauce. Mix everything together in the plate a bit. Enjoy!
Da pan ji (大盘鸡 “big plate chicken”) is one of the few foods that is equally popular among Chinese and Uyghurs. It originates from Xinjiang, but is claimed by neither group: Uyghurs regard it as a Chinese dish, and Chinese regard it as a Xinjiang specialty. Regardless of who originally came up with it, it’s become quite popular in the rest of China and can even be found in Chinese restaurants abroad.
Just like the name, it’s a big plate of chicken stewed in a rich, spicy sauce with potatoes, green bell peppers, and chilies. The star anise makes it amazingly fragrant when complete. There are plenty of variations in the sauce and how it is served: some places serve it with noodles, other with bread, others just by itself. I personally love eating it with Uyghur nan bread to soak up the sauce.
Chicken (1-1.5lb, I use dark meat that won’t get tough during the cooking)
Potatoes (3-4 medium sized ones)
Green bell peppers (1-2)
Chinese fermented black bean sauce (豆瓣酱 doubanjiang)
Chili garlic sauce
Star anise (八角 bajiao, 5-6 pieces)
Sichuanese peppers (optional, a small handful)
Can of beer or Shaoxing cooking wine (optional)
Prep: Chop the potatoes into medium pieces – not too big or they won’t cook through, not too small or they’ll get overcooked and make the sauce starchy. Chop the chicken into small to medium-sized pieces. Chop the green bell peppers into medium-sized square pieces.
1. Heat the wok on high heat and add oil. When the oil has heated, add a small amount of sugar (1-2 teaspoons) and mix well.
2. When the sugar has melted into the oil, put in the chicken and stir fry this until it is browned. The melted sugar will give the chicken a nice golden color.
3. Put in the onions and cook these until soft and light brown.
4. Add the black bean sauce, chili garlic sauce, and tomato paste. Add a good dollop of each – maybe 2-3 tablespoons worth. Mix everything well.
5. Salt, and add the dried chilies and Sichuanese peppers, mixing everything well. Add in the potatoes.
6. Add soy sauce, add the beer or wine (if you are using it), and add enough water so the broth almost covers everything.
7. Put in the star anise. Once the water boils, turn the heat down to medium. Mix everything well, cover the wok, and let this cook for at least 25 minutes.
8. Taste the sauce and reduce if too watery. The sauce should be spicy, aromatic, and savory. Finally, add the bell peppers and let them cook briefly. Dapanji is one of those dishes that tastes better the next day after it has been sitting in the fridge; the flavors thicken and become more complex with time. Ideally, let it simmer over minimum heat for a while before serving. Serve in a big serving plate; you can put noodles or bread on the bottom to soak up the sauce, or serve them separately. Enjoy!
Samsa (самса, 烤包子) are baked buns that are eaten all over Central Asia. The filling is usually meat (beef or lamb), onions, and plenty of fat. As you might guess from the name, they are distantly related to Indian samosas. In Xinjiang, they sell these on the street in every city.
Samsa are usually fairly greasy and, like most Central Asian food, best washed down with hot green tea. I often bought samsas to eat on long-distance buses in Xinjiang; one time a man next to me saw my water bottle and cautioned me against drinking it with the samsas. The traditional belief (not only in Xinjiang, but across Eastern Europe and Asia) is that drinking cold things is bad for your digestion, especially after eating greasy food.
These are traditionally baked in a tandyr oven like nan bread – sticking them straight to the wall and prying them off with tongs. I used a pizza stone and got good results – unlike nan, you can get pretty close to the real thing at home.
The recipe here is for the standard meat samsa. You can also fill them with pumpkin and onion. Although not traditional, I imagine yam or sweet potato would work well too, maybe even taro! You can wrap a chicken drumstick with onion and samsa dough and make amazing baked chicken samsas that turn out wonderfully juicy and tender inside.
Meat (beef or lamb) – use a somewhat fatty cut
1. Make a dough of flour, water, egg, and salt. Knead this until it is fairly firm and let rest for an hour, in the fridge.
2. Take some dough and roll it out until it is very thin and takes up almost all of your rolling space. Lightly brush this with melted butter.
3. Roll up the dough sheet into a tube. Coil up the resulting dough twist and keep in the fridge. Do this for all of the dough.
4. Chop up the meat into fairly small pieces, making sure to leave the fatty bits in. Mix this with finely diced onion, salt, and black pepper.
5. Portion the dough twist into small pieces. Holding a piece upright (so the spiral faces the ceiling), press down on it with your other hand. What you are doing is squashing the spiral out and creating the layered dough.
6. Roll this dough out until it is thin. Spoon a good amount of filling in, then fold it up.
If you want to make circular samsa, just bunch up the edges and press it together in the middle (a bit of water may help it stick), but make sure the edges are fairly thin or you will end up with too much dough in the center of your samsa.
If you want to make triangles, simply fold up two sides then fold the bottom. You can fold into a packet shape (two sides, then two ends) as well.
Whatever you do, make sure your samsa are sealed well so the juices don’t leak out during baking.
7. Brush the samsas with beaten egg and top with sesame and nigella seeds.
8. Have the oven preheated to 420 degrees. Place the samsa directly onto the baking stone. Alternately, you can put them on a baking sheet lined with oiled foil.
9. Bake for about 25 minutes at 420 degrees. When they are done, you should see golden brown spots appearing on them. Enjoy!
Goosh nan (گۆشنان, gösh nan, “meat bread”) is the Uyghur version of a dish that is popular all over Central Asia and the Turkic world. It’s a round, flat pie stuffed with mincemeat, fried, and sometimes additionally steamed. It was one of my favorite dishes in Xinjiang, and makes a great appetizer or light meal, with plenty of hot green tea to wash it down.
Goosh nan’s closest relative is the Tatar cheburek (or çiğ börek in Turkish), which is a half-moon shaped dough stuffed with meat and deep-fried. The concept of meat wrapped in dough is a key feature of Central Asian cuisine: manti, börek, chuchvara, goosh nan, and cheburek are all variants of the same idea.
Goosh nan is a simple dish to prepare: roll out two pieces of dough to paper thin circles, top one with mincemeat, cover it with the other dough, and fry. Sometimes it is also steamed after frying, and sometimes it is more bready and baked, like in the picture below:
Finely minced beef or lamb. It’s better when you mince the meat by hand, but ground meat will do.
Directions: For the filling
1. Finely dice the onion and mix it into the ground meat with salt and black pepper. This is the same basic filling as in manti, cheburek and chuchvara.
For the dough
1. Make a fairly firm dough out of flour, water, egg, and salt. Knead for 10 minutes and let it rest for 30min-1hr (it will be easier to roll out if you rest it).
2. Take two pieces of dough about the size of your palm. Roll each of these out to a wide, paper-thin sheet.
3. On one of the dough sheets, put your meat filling in a circle a bit smaller than the pan you will fry it in. Make the filling smooth and even.
4. Cover it with the other dough sheet, pressing down firmly all around the meat so the dough sticks together.
5. Use a knife to cut out a circle, leaving room around the edges.
6. Use your hands to make little folds all around the edges of the dough and press firmly so the dough pieces do not come apart.
7. Deep fry the pie until golden brown. If you want to make the steamed version, you don’t have to deep fry it (steaming will make it un-crispy again anyway) but still fry both sides until golden brown. When it’s done, drain the pie on a thick pile of paper towels and dab oil off the top.
By the way, if you want to make cheburek, just do all the above steps, except make only one dough sheet, put meat on one half side, then fold it over.
8. If you want the steamed version, put the pie in a steamer, cover, and steam for 25 minutes.
My quest for perfect Uyghur nan bread is still ongoing. In the seven years since I was in Xinjiang, I have never eaten anything like the freshly baked nan bread sold in the streets. Of course, there are countless different varieties of bread being sold – but my favorite was the big, disc-shaped bread. Thick around the edges and thin in the middle, slightly oily and usually topped with sesame and sometimes onion or other spices, it is sold on the street in every city in Xinjiang for only 1-2 kuai.
I’ve eaten at several Uighur, Uzbek, and other Central Asian restaurants in the US since then and I’ve never found it. They serve a bread called лепёшка(lepyoshka) in Russian that is thick and bready, but nothing even resembling the big disc bread.
The big oily round bread is not the only type of bread in Xinjiang. One other variety is a big, round, thick, extremely dry bread that can be stored for a long time. Other nationalities in the region (like Kyrgyz, Kazakhs) make this bread too. I remember visiting a Kyrgyz yurt where the hosts kept a big partially eaten round of dry bread in the corner covered with some cloth. They took it out and served it to us with tea. This bread is usually eaten with soup, sauce, or other liquid as it is too dry to eat on its own. Yet another common variety resembles a bagel, or more precisely, a bialy. We’ll cover this variant in part 2.
My own attempts have been getting better after many tries and many burned or misshapen breads. I’ve gotten good results with a pizza stone, but I suspect the perfect nan bread requires a tandoor oven. FarWestChina has a good post and video about how Uyghur bread is made in Xinjiang.
Before buying some bread stamps in Uzbekistan for cheap ($2-3 for each one), I bought an Uyghur bread stamp from Taobao – just do a search for 囊戳子 and you’ll find plenty of them. It is a bit tricky getting it to the US – I went through a Taobao agent called Bhiner that was fairly straightforward. The shipping ended up being far more expensive than the stamp itself (it cost around $30 total and the stamp itself was only $9). You can sometimes find bread stamps on Ebay or Etsy as well, though it is quite expensive (the shop I linked charges $50 including shipping!). The stamp is definitely important in making an authentic bread, but I have used a fork plenty of times with decent results. Finally, in New York, Fortuna grocery in Brooklyn sells bread stamps (they keep them behind the cashiers where they sell plates and teapots).
This bread tastes good by itself and especially with soup or sauce (like dimlama or dapanji). I also like eating it for breakfast with kefir or yogurt.
Ingredients Flour (experiment with all purpose or bread flour, they will give different results)
Directions 1. In a large bowl, make a mountain of flour and indent the middle. Pour warm water into the middle, add 1/3-1/2 packet of dry yeast, salt, and a bit of sugar. Mix well and let stand for a few minutes. When it has gotten frothy, add the egg in. Then mix everything well, adding water as needed.
2. When you have a somewhat firm mixture, flour a surface and knead the dough for 10 minutes until firm.
3. Lightly oil a bowl and put the kneaded dough ball in, cover with a cloth and let rest for at least 40 minutes in a warm place.
4. When the dough has finished resting, punch it down and knead it a bit more. You will have to eyeball how much dough you want to use for how big/thick you want your bread.
5. Roll the dough out into a round, flat circle. It should not be too thick or too thin, maybe a bit less than 1cm thick. Do not let the dough get too thin, or it will burn when you bake it! Let the dough rest for another 20 minutes.
6. Form an edge all around the bread with your hands. If you’ve rested the dough for long enough, it should mold easily without resistance.
7. Time to stamp down the center. If you have a bread stamp, stamp concentric patterns all around the center, making sure to press hard so the spikes go all the way through. If you don’t have a bread stamp, use a bottle or other round object to stamp around the center. Then use a fork to poke holes, poking all the way through. There should be holes all over the center. This helps prevent the center of the bread from rising up (we only want the edges to rise in the oven).
8. Lightly brush oil all over the top and sides of the bread. Then put the toppings onto the center, pressing in lightly so they stick. I usually use sesame and nigella seeds, sometimes with very finely diced onion. Some people also put black pepper and/or cumin seeds. Experiment with what you like; there is no fixed recipe.
10. Ready to bake. Put the dough into your 500F preheated oven (I use a pizza stone) and bake until the bread is golden brown all over (10-15 minutes). If you like, you can lightly brush the bread with oil after it is baked. Enjoy!
Laghman noodles have a special place in my heart. If you go to Xinjiang, chances are you will eat lagman noodles – not only once, but many times, and maybe even every day. In fact, I’m pretty sure there were days I ate lagman more than once in a single day.
Laghman is probably one of the most Uyghur of Central Asian foods – while foods like kebab, plov, and naan can be claimed by many nationalities, noodles are an Uyghur specialty. The etymology of “laghman” is open to debate, but most agree it originally comes from Chinese 拉面(la mian), or literally “pulled noodles.” Hand-pulled Uighur noodles are a wondrous thing – thick with a nice bouncy chew to them.
There are as many different varieties of laghman as there are people making laghman, because there is no fixed recipe. It is noodles topped with a sauce of meat and vegetables. Basically anything is game – lamb, beef, chicken, green beans, bell pepper, bok choy, squash – whatever fresh vegetables are on hand. However, there are a few common points: onion, garlic, tomato sauce, and bell pepper are almost always present.
I have tried for a long time to recreate the taste of laghman noodles in Xinjiang. It is possible that after 7 years my memories of the taste have faded. So far, this is the closest version I’ve made.
This recipe is adopted from Abdulaziz Salavat’s videos (making the noodles and making the sauce). Uyghurs make pulled noodles differently from Chinese (who generally use the folding method, and use flour instead of oil to keep it from sticking). Abdulaziz, an experienced chef, makes noodle pulling look easy, but it is actually quite difficult. His noodles are made by rolling the dough with one hand and pulling with the other. However, if your technique or dough are off, your noodles will be uneven, too thick, or break off.
If you don’t want to pull noodles by hand, you can eat this dish with fresh flour-and-water noodles sold in Asian groceries. I make it this way for quick weeknight meals (making noodles by hand is a lengthy process). In NYC, I buy the Twin Marquis thick noodles sold at Hong Kong Supermarket or other Chinese groceries. They are a decent substitute for hand-pulled noodles, although the taste is a bit different. If nothing else is available, you could use udon noodles, but they aren’t the right shape/texture.
(or buy fresh premade noodles) Sauce: Meat (lamb or beef)
Chinese celery (or regular Western celery in a pinch)
Chili paste – I use the chili garlic sauce commonly sold at Asian groceries.
Chinese black vinegar
Fresh vegetables – Bell pepper, green beans, bok choy (just the white part, not the leaves). Feel free to substitute with whatever is fresh, although bell pepper at a minimum is a must.
Sichuan pepper (“hua jiao”) – optional, but gives a unique flavor
Noodle Making: 1. Make a dough of flour, salt, water, and egg, kneading well for 10-15 minutes. Then let it rest covered for 30min-1hr, making sure the dough does not dry out. After resting it, form it into a rectangular shape about 1cm thick and lightly brush with oil.
You might wonder about the point of resting dough with no yeast in it. It makes the dough easier to roll and stretch out later. Dough that is not rested tends to be resistant to shaping and difficult to work with.
2. Cut the dough into long pieces and roll them into a smooth cylindrical shape. You want these cylinders to be as smooth and regular as possible, because they will be stretched out into noodles and any imperfections will be magnified. Lightly oil a large round plate. Starting from the center, spiral the dough pieces over the entire plate. Lightly brush the coiled dough with oil. Then let these sit in the fridge covered in plastic wrap for at least 5-10 minutes.
What is the purpose of the magic coil? After making laghman many times, I’ve concluded that it 1) Gives the initial round shape to the noodles, to be pulled out later, and 2) allows you to oil them all at once, which is important so they don’t stick later, and 3) allows you to conveniently store them in a stable state that won’t easily dry out.
3. In this step I recommend you keep the dough coil in the fridge covered and work piece by piece, so the dough doesn’t dry out. Take a dough piece and roll it between your fingers to round out any uneven spots. Pull out the noodle piece and make it into a loop, holding both ends in one hand. Dangling the dough down from the ends, spin the bottom so it twirls up and braids itself. Then holding both ends again, pull it out, waving it up and down, and smacking it against the table. Fold the dough over on itself again and repeat the twirling and pulling. The noodles should be pretty thin by now – cut them so they’re a reasonable length and untwirl them. Don’t worry if they seem too thin, as they will swell up when you cook them.
Don’t fret if you end up breaking some noodles in the process – after they’re cooked you won’t notice much how long the pieces are. However, if your dough is constantly breaking, it could be mean that it wasn’t kneaded enough to begin with. After the noodles are finished, either cook them immediately or cover them with plastic wrap and store in the fridge – you don’t want them to dry out.
4. Bring water to a rolling boil in a cauldron and lightly salt. Put in the noodles – don’t worry if it appears like they have stuck together in a mass of dough. If the dough was oiled correctly in previous steps, they will come apart. Poke with some chopsticks to separate out the noodles as they cook. After the water has returned to a rolling boil for a few minutes, taste a noodle – it should be al dente with a nice firmness to it – drain the noodles and rinse them with cold water in a sieve. Plate the cooked noodles and keep them aside for the sauce.
Prep: Slice the onions into half moons. Dice the garlic and celery leaves. Dice the tomatoes. Chop all the fresh vegetables into squares. Cut off the ends of the green beans and cut them into fairly small pieces (maybe 1/2 inch long). Optionally, marinate the meat with corn starch and soy sauce – this can help make it more tender. 1. Heat the wok to high heat, heat oil, then stir fry the meat over high heat. You will cook everything on high heat in one go. After the meat is nicely browned, add onions, cook till soft and golden brown, then add a splash of black vinegar.
2. Add 2-3 big spoons of tomato paste and 1 spoon of chili garlic paste, mixing everything well.
3. Add the celery, tomatoes, bok choi, bell pepper, green beans, and any other vegetables you want to add. Stir a bit after adding each vegetable.
4. Add some water or broth to make a sauce. After the water starts to boil, reduce to a simmer and put the meat back in if you removed it earlier. Add vinegar, soy, Sichuan pepper, and salt to taste. Finish it all off with some garlic, mix, and simmer a bit.
5. Dish the sauce over the cooked laghman noodles. Enjoy!