27 June 2013
A Uygher Feed & Urumqi Nut Cake in Zhuhai, China
After ten days of Chinese food for breakfast, lunch and dinner we must admit we felt a bit Chinesed-out. It was tempting to pop over the border to meet our friends and indulge in the Western trappings of Macau. Or we could find one last meal to end our mainland China trip with. How could we not?
Walking toward the Gongbei Port there's a number of places to eat around a wet market that look great but it's the wrong time of day, all the restaurants are in afternoon siesta mode.
So we head up an alley off the main pedestrian mall in search of something interesting...
This friendly bloke appears and welcomes us into his restaurant. In this mid-afternoon restaurant dead zone we're happy to eat anywhere eager to feed us.
By accident we strike food-nerd gold. This restaurant turns out to be a Uygher joint. Uygher country is thousands of kilometres away from where we are in Zhuhai. These guys are almost as foreign here as we are.
Praise be Richard Dawkins, there's a picture menu on the wall. We order and wait... While we wait we watch a couple of older gents across the alley getting their hair dyed purple, sitting outside a hairdressing salon with plastic caps on, crimson dye dribbling down the sides of their faces, chain smoking and gossiping. Bucks night? Cricket prank? Triad initiation? A couple of days earlier we yum cha'd with a purple headed Chinese Frank Costanza in Guangzhou.
Hand made noodle with beef soup. Alison picks a winner. A simple dish perfectly cooked, it's never quite the same back home in Sydney. This is what we travel China for.
Mr Shawn thought he picked a dud with the lamb soup, but it was a little bit incredible. A thin broth tasting of slow cooked mutton, with flavour soaking glass noodles and some token veggies. Lurking beneath the surface were hunks of soup sopping bread. We wonder if this is a variation of the classic soup where the bread comes on the side, only they have saved us the trouble of dunking.
While we wait for our soups a man black pulls up on his trusty portable nut cake selling bicycle. Nut cake? Shawn is out there in a flash.
He slices off portions and sells it by the weight using a mean guillotine like tool. Don't get your fingers get too close. The man behind has already lost two of his.
The nut cake itself is a compressed megolith of pounded nuts with dried fruits on top. A crowd of locals formed and there were lengthy, animated negotiations about which slices to go for and how much to pay. It's a technical business. Would you go for a slice along the side so you can get more dried fruit? Or would you head for the middle to get more of those big nuts on top?
And where you slice in the middle dictates what nuts you get on top. The cake is decorated with such a beautiful pattern, it seemed a shame to cut it up. [No it wasn't].
It tasted rather like a light nutty nougat, rather delicious. Later back home in Sydney we watched a documentary on the Henan News (TVS Wednesday mornings) that featured Urumqi Nut Cake. It was almost exactly the same. Google tells us it is also called Xinjiang nut cake or Uyhger nut cake. In Australia we'd call it a bloody-big-cake-on-the-back-of-a-pushy.
Here's a linky-poo on the stuff: http://www.food4feed.com/xinjiang-nuts-cake.html
We skipped away in utter delight from our side alley sojourn. Now we want to head up north and out west to try lamb soups, noodles and more nut cake. Just when we thought we'd had our fill of China, it gave us a little tug on the heart and stomach and said 'Not just yet. You will be back'.
And we will. We love China.