The Uygur ethnic minority mainly resides in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region inChina. Their race and language belong to the Turkish ethnic system. There are about 6.5 million Uygurs scattered in the cities and villages throughout Xinjiang.
In the latter half of the ninth century, Uygurs were driven out of the northern plateau inMongolia. They migrated via the Gansu Corridor to the present Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Since then, the diet of Uygur changed from basing on meat and milk to basing on grains supplemented with meat. For the Uygurs, greater social changes occurred in religion.
By the 13thcentury, all Uygurs had converted to Islam, and the dietetic culture also changed accordingly. The most representative food of Uygurs is roasted mutton string (kabobin Uygur language), which can be seen everywhere from westAsiatoUrumqi.
Kabobthat seems to be introduced from the western countries actually originated in the Turkish food. TheNang(roasted pancake made of wheaten flour and other grain flour), unlikekabob, can be regarded as aMideastfood culture introduced from the western countries.
The Uygur ethnic minority is one of the first nomadic races that shifted to a settled agricultural life, but the dietetic culture still keeps a lot of custom special to the nomadic races. Generally speaking, most Uygurs take wheaten food as the staple food, and are fond of meat and dairy products. They do not eat much vegetable, and often eat melons and fruit as part of their food in summer.
In the past, due to the underdeveloped economy, the tableware of most Uygurs were wooden and earthen bowls, spoons and plates, but Uygurs often used hands directly to take food. They have three meals a day. The breakfast isNangand tea orUmashi(maize flour porridge), the lunch is wheaten food, and the supper is soup noodles orNangand tea. The whole family sits together for meals. When finishing meals, a senior will doDuwa(pray) and leave before the tableware is taken away.
The traditional meat food mainly includes mutton, beef, chicken, eggs and fish, especially mutton. The dairy products mainly include cow milk, ewe milk, yogurt, and milk cream. The vegetables include yellow radish, onion, garlic, pumping, radish, tomato, eggplant, chili, coriander, ageratum, green bean and potato, etc.
Roasted food is an important feature of Uygur dietetic customs, and is loved by other races in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Uygurs use a specialNangoven to roast food. The building of the oven is extraordinary. Uygurs usually select a patch of empty land in front of the house, and build a round oven hearth with soil and bricks, which is about one meter high, with a small mouth and a large belly. The internal wall of the hearth is a layer of 2 or 3cm-thick loess and soil, added with salty water and wool. Before roasting food, they first heat the hearth with woods or charcoal, then take out the fire, quickly stick the food to the interior wall of the hearth, and cover the lid. The oven has a wide range of functions. Apart from roasting food made of flour, it can also be used to roast meat, such as meatNang, oilNang, stuffed bun, sesameNang, and multi-layeredNang, bump stuffed ban, and so on, which are all favorite foods of Uygurs.
Uygurs have always thought much of garden production. Most Uygurs have their own fruit gardens, and thus have the habit of eating melons and fruit all round the year. Beginning with mulberry that goes ripe in May and apricot in June, various kinds of fruits go ripe continuously. Uygurs are able to eat fresh fruits for nearly 7 months of a year.
Even in winter, they often eat dried fruits and nuts such as walnut, dried apricot, almond, raisin, oleaster, red date and dried peach. Many families have the good habit of storing sweet melons, grapes, apples and pears. It is estimated that each Uygur consumes one or two hundred kilograms of fresh and dried fruits each year. In summer, Uygurs often eat fruits instead of tea and food, and eat fruits withNang; in winter, they often eat walnut, almond and raisin withNang. They also like to use raisin and dried apricot to make rice, and use grape, mulberry, apple, Chinese crabapple, apricot, pear, strawberry, fig and cherry to make fruit jam.
The traditional drinks of Uygurs are tea, cream, yogurt, fruit syrup made from dried fruits, fruit juice,Duogafu(icy yogurt, mixture of yogurt and ice cubes, the most favorite drink of Uygurs), grape dew (liquid from broken grape vines, with a sour taste and the effect of curing diseases), andMushalaisi(grape wine), etc. Uygurs are especially fond of tea in daily life, and cannot live without tea for all the three meals a day.
Tea is also the major drink to entertain guests. Whenever a guest visits a Uygur family, the host will first offer a bowl of hot tea and a plate of delicious and crispNang. Even in seasons of fruit harvest, tea is always the first to offer to a guest. Most Uygurs like tuckahoe tea, which is still the most favorite traditional drink of Uygurs. Uygur seniors often add sugar candy to tea.
Uygurs in northern Xinjiang mostly like milk tea. Among dairy products, Uygurs like yogurt the most.
Uygurs have many festivals, with the same or different dietetic customs. The sameness lies in killing animals for entertaining guests and for family feasts; the difference is that there are different special foods for different festivals, for example,Shouzhuarice, oil cake,Shouzhuamutton, snacks and fruits for the Corban, and rice noodle soup for the Lesser Bairam. When it comes to the dietetic rituals concerning human life, there are the baptism feast held on the 40thday after the baby is born, the circumcision feast held when a boy is 6 or 7 years old, the wedding feast for new couples, the birthday feast for seniors, andNaizir(the sacrifice rite) in the mourning period, etc. In regard to social entertainment, there are Fragrant Queen Tomb Gathering,JieshuiFestival Picnic, Snow Feast, Chained Dinners (hosted by young men in turn in winter evenings),Nulusi(Spring Picnic),Weilang(Happy Gathering), Turpan Grape Feast, etc. There are rules for the hosting and attendance of the feasts, such as getting seated in turn, washing hands with running water, and doDuwaled by a senior, etc.
Due to the belief in Islam, the dietetic taboos are basically the same as those of Huis. The guest must wash hands before meals, must not swing off water from hands but wipe with a towel, and can begin eating after completing the gratitude rite to the host. If the guest cannot eat up the food, he may return it to the host with both hands. The host will be very happy, because it indicates that the hosting family has more than enough food. If the hosting family has difficulty in entertaining guests, the neighbors will offer to take its place. When dining, people must not fiddle with the food in the plate, must not drop food to the ground, and must not put the rice roll that has been picked up by hands back to the plate. TheNangshould be placed front side up, and be eaten after it is split into halves with the hands. Uygurs do not eat the meat of pigeon, horse or camel; must not sniff food; usually do not eat soy sauce; have a special cup for each one; have to wash hands three times before eatingShouzhuarice; and think much of the cleanness of drinking water.