Sherman's Food Adventures: Sama Uyghur Cuisine

Sama Uyghur Cuisine

Underappreciated and generally unknown, Uyghur cuisine from the Xinjiang region of China is hard to come by in most parts of the world.  It is the unique mesh of Chinese cuisine with Muslim influences (and some straight-up Central Asian dishes).  In Vancouver (where I'm from), we had essentially 2 places and now we are down to one (Beijiang Restaurant).  While I was down visiting my relatives in the East Bay (in particular Fremont), they suggested we hit up Sama Uyghur Cuisine.  They didn't have to ask twice since finding this cuisine is the equivalent to finding a unicorn.

We ended up getting all the greatest hits including the Lamb & Chicken Skewers.  These were really large with substantial chunks of meat.  They were spiced with the usual earthiness of cumin and spice of chili flakes.  Minor hints of nutmeg and garlic were present as well.  They were grilled enough that the flavors were activated while still keeping the meat moist and tender.  I particularly thought the lamb was good being just fatty enough.  The chicken was a little drier though.  As an appie of sorts, we got the Spicy Green Bean Jelly.  These soft and buttery "noodles" were topped with chickpeas, chili oil/sauce, chili peppers and cilantro as well as a soy-based sauce.  This was spicy, salty, aromatic with a touch of tang.   This was all about the delicate texture of the green bean jelly though.

Of course we couldn't do without the Big Plate Chicken with pieces of chicken leg, potatoes and peppers.  This went really well with rice where the sauce was full of cumin and just a touch of spice.  There are several different versions of the dish and this one included tomato.  We enjoyed the tender pieces of chicken and the equally delicate potatoes that soaked up the sauce.  Underneath, the house-made noodles were still chewy and also benefited from the sauce.  However, since they were served with the original dish, it started to get soft as we ate (usually should be served after we finished the ingredients).  Getting some veggies into our meal, we had the Stir-Fried Broccoli and although it was not a complicated dish, it was prepared well.  Lots of wok heat lead to caramelized flavours (garlicky) and crunchy broccoli without much moisture.

Since Uyghur cuisine is famous for the use of lamb, we also went for the Cumin Lamb.  This was also prepared properly with plenty of wok heat which ensured caramelization and activation of all aromatics.  Naturally, the earthy cumin came through in spades, but the lamb was definitely there too with its usual gaminess.  The pieces were tender enough without being dry.  The rest of the ingredients including the peppers were still vibrant and crunchy while cooked all-the-way through.  I also noticed the dish wasn't as greasy as some other versions I've had.  One dish I wasn't a huge fan of was the Dry Stir Fried Green Beans as the beans were a little old.  Hence, they were chewy and not crunchy.  Furthermore, the flavors were a bit weak too with only a minor amount of aromatics.

On the other hand, the Stir-Fried Noodles with Beef was the complete opposite exhibiting developed and activated flavours.  Obviously, the most important part was the hand-pulled noodles and they were indeed excellent.  Super chewy in an appealing manner, there was bite and elasticity.  After that, the preparation was flawless with caramelization in terms of color and taste.  Just a touch of spice, the dish had plenty of savory elements combined with a balancing amount of sweetness and umami.  Lots of complimentary ingredients as well.  For the other noodle we had, it was more saucy in the Fried Pearl Noodle.  At first, I couldn't even tell there was any noodle due to the amount of ingredients on top.  Again, the noodles were chewy and this time around, they were more mild as the sauce didn't adhere very much.  This was more about textures than impactful flavor.  So other than the green beans, the dishes we had at Sama were appealing and tasty.  Sure, Uyghur food is fairly obscure and sometimes it leads to over-excitement even if the food is mediocre.  I don't believe this was the case here as the food was solid on its own merit.

The Good:
- Impactful flavors
- Large portions
- Unique

The Bad:
- A little pricey


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