If there’s one place in China that I have not been to and longing to go, that’s Xinjiang. I have enjoyed their cuisine, I have friends from the lovely place and heard about the hospitality and of course the rich culture of the “New Frontier”. And I would always go to a Xinjiang restaurant as much as I would any Chinese restaurant.
Yershari is Uyghur for “The Planet Earth” and the name of restaurant chain featuring Xinjiang cuisine. Founded in 1998 in Shanghai, it introduced Xinjiang cuisine to the unknowing Shanghainese public. Before this, Xinjiang food is street food represented by lamb kebabs and other grilled meats sold by vendors along the street.
Mala is a spicy and numbing seasoning made from Sichuan peppercorn and chili pepper. 椒麻鸡 Spiced chicken with chilli sauce is not Xinjiang, but a Sichuan dish, but it has come to be associated with Xinjiang cuisine because it seems that every one of those restaurants will offer ti on their menu. So was 酸辣蕨根粉 sour and spicy fern root noodles. I have no idea when Sichuan cuisine got so mixed up with Xinjiang cuisine, which have its roots with Turkish/Eurasia cuisines.
咸蛋黄菌菇 Deep-fried mushrooms with salted egg yolk was a new dish, but definitely not Xinjiang origin. Tasty, but if you are looking for that authentic experience then skip it. Anyway, I am so tired of salted egg dishes but my lunch companions liked it. I would go for appetisers like 手撕辣白菜 handpulled kimchi, where it was something familiar but authentically flavoured.
Typically in Xinjiang cuisine, a raw salad is preferred given some really good citrusy produce. But to cater to Chinese palates, they offered some stir-fry/dry-fry dishes, like 炝炒牛心菜 Stir-fry cabbage and 干煸豆角 Dry-fried string beans. They were nice because of the incorporation of some chilli and spices, but I would rather have a salad for the heavy meat dishes that were coming.
大盤雞 Big plate chicken
This is one Xinjiang cuisine that most Chinese would know. Actually, it did not originate from Xinjiang, but from a Sichuan chef that made this dish popular in Xinjiang. The story goes, Li Shiling 李士林 opened a shop along the highway circa 1990 and was very popular with truckers travelling up and down the country. One day, someone asked for a large portion of his signature spicy chicken dish and he made a large plate with a whole chicken. As they said, the rest was history. 大盤雞 Big plate chicken was born.
The last time I tried this at their People’s Square branch many years ago, I could taste that dish as pre-processed and the sauce was added later. This time, they have improved the process, the chicken and the sauce were more harmonious together and the handmade fettucine 宽拌面 was such a lovely complement.
Roasts and Kebabs
Uyghur bread, also known as “naan” 馕, is an incredible Central Asian flat bread served all throughout China’s western region of Xinjiang. The bread is similar to those baked by the Northern Indian, where flatten dough is baked along the walls of a tandoor. Whether you eat it with kebabs, dip it in a plate of Big Plate Chicken, or just eat it by itself, your familiarity with Xinjiang is measured by the number of pieces of naan you have eaten.
Xinjiang lamb kebabs are skewered pieces of lamb alternating pieces of meat and fat, and are seasoned with a blend of spices which can be quite tasty and cooked over a grill heated by either wood or charcoal. Usually kebabs are served alone on a plate, but by requesting some naan, the grease from the kebabs will be used to soften and flavour the bread.
雪域牛肉 Roasted beef cubes served with chilli oil demonstrated the simple yet tasty cooking technique that make Xinjiang cuisine so delicious. The lamb was replaced with good cuts of beef, but the spices remained the same – cumin, chilli, peppercorn, but mainly cumin. The fats of the beef caramelised as a result of Milliard reaction and gave the meat the smoky tastes.
Even though this is a branch of the restaurant chain, the food was good and for lunch, the service was prompt. Yershari remains one of the better Xinjiang restaurant in Shanghai. However if you are looking for more authentic ones, you would have to go to smaller shops opened by the Xinjiang people.
Yershari Restaurant 耶里夏丽 (长宁来福士店)
6F, East zone of Raffles City, No.1139, Changning Road, Changning Distric, Shanghai
Tel：+86 (021) 62990690
Date Visited : Jul 2021
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