I’ve become a fan of a special type of cuisine from the “Xinjiang” region (“新疆菜”), where signature dishes include mutton, kebab, carrots, and potatoes. When most people think of Chinese food, they don’t realize just how many different types there are! Xinjiang is a province with many ethnic groups, including the Uyghur people who are mostly Muslim, which explains the halal dishes. Because Xinjiang is close to Central Asia, its cuisine can sometimes feel more Turkish than Chinese. I personally love Turkish food, so for me it’s the best of both worlds.
It’s a blessing that many native Xinjiang folk have opened up restaurants throughout Shanghai, one of the very best ones (with locally-harvested organic vegetables) right here in my backyard! I like to think of Miss Ali as one of the mom-and-pop shops I used to frequent in San Francisco. Miss Ali missed her hometown when she moved to the big city, so she opened up shop to share the traditional way of Xinjiang cooking. From the wooden utensils and gold platters to the colorful lamps and rugs on the wall, the setting is authentic yet modern rustic. To me, food is one of the most enjoyable ways to learn about the history and culture of a people. Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I love that there is always a reason and explanation behind each dish.
Xinjiang veggie dishes are hearty and include a lot of carrots and potatoes, because those are the only types of crops that grew in the desert-like mountainous regions of Xinjiang. The must-order at Miss Ali is the spicy lamb kebab, freshly grilled outside the patio on a hot summer night.
As a tea lover, I can never resist treating myself to their delectably rich milk tea, served on nothing less than a gold platter with your own personal gold teapot. It’s all about the small pleasures in life.
Miss Ali / DaGu Road, Shanghai