One-plus-One Dumplings: Uyghur-licious

Chinese food in Australia is for the most part, awful, but it is an awfulness within which you can revel. Steak and black bean sauce, paint-liftingly acidic lemon chicken, your-meat-of-choice stir-fried with cashew nut and cornstarch. Fried rice with peas in it and those little prawns (jumbo krill?) from a can that only exist to populate this specific dish. I still have a lot of love for it, mostly because it represents a resolutely Australian cuisine.

It does bear a passing resemblance to Cantonese food, if you squint hard enough and have a terrible aversion to vegetable matter, offal and real seafood. I’ve been meaning to do some research to uncover Australia’s first Chinese restaurant as a way to find out whom or where gave birth to this food, and why it was Cantonese and not the Uighur food from Western China that captured the Australian palate.

uighur food - kordakh

If Central New South Wales had have invented a Chinese cuisine of their own (and been originally populated by nomadic Central Asians subjected to 2500 years of bloody invasion), it would probably look much like Uighur food.

The far Western province of China is built upon sheep and wheat; which the food reflects, as does its location between Tibet, Mongolia, Russia, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan- and India-controlled Kashmir. It thus has a byzantine political history whose richness is only surpassed by its daedal religious intricacy. As a consequence, people eat potatoes; piles of cumin; chili in crazed abundance, both whole dried and as flakes. Fresh wheat noodles are pulled or are presented flattened and hand-cut.

Uyghur Lamb kebab

is omnipresent: in the cumin-coated kebabs (above), atop and beneath hot noodles ands soups, providing filling for the dumplings and pastries. Apart from the spices, it couldn’t conform more to the cliche of the Anglo-Australian palate.

salad

Green salads even arrive uncooked and unpreserved which is about as far from the rest of Chinese cuisine as you can possibly veer. Why isn’t this food in every Australian country town?

Apart from the obvious reason that there is no critical mass of Uighur people spread about the countryside, there is probably a Western Chinese restaurant nearby that you wouldn’t otherwise notice unless you could read Chinese characters. One-plus-One Dumplings in Footscray is a case in point. Their name is little more than a ruse to hide their true cuisine; their dumplings only notable for being forgettable; the interior indistinguishable from any other Chinese restaurant under the disinfectant glare of fluorescent lighting and mirror-halled walls.

But the lamb and noodles will transport you straight back to Ürümqi.

While one should eat Uighur food apropos of nothing, this particular occasion to hit up some Western Chinese in the Western suburbs was that Maytel from Gut Feelings was in Melbourne, as were ex-Cambodian expats Andrew and Anth. We are all still bound to upholding the myth that every English language blogger in Cambodia knows each other. And there isn’t a decent Cambodian joint for miles.

Address: One-Plus-One Dumplings, 84 Hopkins St, Footscray

Addendum (27 May 2008): Added Tibet to list of neighbouring nations. I missed it.

23 Comments One-plus-One Dumplings: Uyghur-licious

  1. Zoe

    It was gold that brought the Cantonese, in the 1850s, and the first Chinese run cookshops opened around the port cities to feed them. There had been an earlier Chinese public house licensee, in Parramatta, but I don’t think his joint did too much Chinese food.

    The first chapter of “Banquet: Ten Courses to Harmony” by Annette Shun Wah and Greg Aitkin is where the above info is from. But don’t let that trick you into thinking it’s a great book or anything ; )

    Also, want cuminy lamb kebab now

    Reply
  2. Phil Lees

    My theory is that Chinese food in Australia didn’t boom until the 1950s and 60s because every single dish in Australian-Cantonese has so much meat in it. Cantonese food has certainly been in Australia since the 1800s (and the Chinese community central to the food trade), but the White Australia Policy in 1901 destroyed the Chinese restaurant trade (if there was one).

    As I mentioned, I’ll hit up some peer-reviewed journals rather than trading in wild theories.

    As a weird aside, I thought I’d look up RW Apple’s review of Flower Drum in the NY Times from a few years ago – and there is a glaring error in it. Giaconda Vineyard is near Beechworth, not Butterworth (which is near Penang in Malaysia).

    Does the New York Times correct its dead?

    Reply
  3. Nick

    Unrelated to this post — I’m not a fan of the new you-can’t-read-posts-until-you’ve-clicked-and-waited-to-load design. Put all the post text on the front page like it used to be, please!

    Reply
  4. Josh

    i have to admit i find it disconcerting that, in spite of the international focus on the current situation, tibet was left out of the list of states neighboring uighur-populated turkestan, both of which were invaded simultaneously by china. tibet maintained strong relationships with neighboring territories, largely due to its wealth and considerable nomad population. unfortunately, much of the cuisine of central asia, tibet, mongolia, etc. is neglected by many food writers, cooks, and eaters because it is primarily subsistence food, reflecting a harsh environment and limited fuel supply, which often doesn’t allow for an abundance of dishes palatable to foreigners.

    Reply
  5. Jen

    Hello there,

    Just wondering, did you notice if the restaurant was serving Halal food, since that Uighur is Muslim?

    Another place of note is the Silk Road restaurant in Sydney, near UTS and Market City…

    Reply
  6. Robyn

    Josh – I agree with you, but demand drives book sales. Good luck pitching a single-subject book on Mongolian, Xinjiang (or Central Asian, for that matter, that doesn’t include Turkey), or Tibetan cuisine. But have a look at he recently-released ‘Beyond the Great Wall’ by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. It should make you happy.

    Reply
  7. Phil Lees

    I didn’t notice whether they were halal or not.

    I tend to think that foods don’t get neglected in the West because they’re subsistence foods (e.g. characterised by eating everything possible) but because Westerners do not to visit poor regions for any extended period of time.

    Reply
  8. Jen

    FYI, I gave them a call and after some chinese/english verbal mishmash…. have said that they do cater for Muslims (even though they serve Pork…which I find very strange).

    Just for people out there and wanting more information :)

    Reply
  9. Jen

    Hi again,

    Correction: I tried the place tonight and the food was good… not as good as the Sydney one but is a very nice change from the normal Chinese food places. Service was horrible though… and I have become confused as to whether they serve Halal meat or not… The owner (who is from Xinjiang) has no idea what the word Muslim or Halal meant… The owner and waiters all spoke Mandarin (different to my Cantonese)… perhaps someone out there may be able to talk to them properly and find out.

    I could have sworn Xinjiang was Muslim? Or is the owner of this restaurant just the minority?

    Reply
  10. Phil Lees

    Jen – Cheers. Nice to know. One of the things missing from One-plus-One is any of the Uighur pastries, and if pork is anywhere on the menu, I’d have my doubts about everything being halal.

    Reply
  11. maytel

    I once stayed in a yurt and was treated to a traditional mongolian meal which consisted of everything made out of mutton….it wasn’t very nice, thankfully traditional mongolian hospitality and drinking games helped the meal along and by the end me and the Malaysian Chinese girl I was with were betting each other to eat the sheep’s eyeball

    I’ve never been so drunk in my life

    subsistence foods are palatable if washed down with lashing of the local liqueur….(most subsistence communities also tend to distil their own mind numbing moonshine)

    Reply
  12. mechelle

    There is a good restaurant named Xing Jiang in Ashfield Sydney you can ask for your lamb shikebabs to be spiced up alot the hand made noodles are great,slightly better than Sydney Chinatown.

    Reply
  13. querycurio

    oh kewl .. I’ve also seen a Uyghur place in Box Hill and Dandenong .. I’ll check out this one too

    hmmm I’ll have to disagree with your opening declaration that Chinese food in Melbourne is awful … from my experience, as a western nation we offer one of the best Chinese and Asian food experiences in any of the metropolitan cities. I think you should check out areas towards Box Hill, Glen Waverley, Doncaster and Burwood where most of the Chinese population resides. For eg. the best roast duck shop is underneath and within an arcade off Middleborough Road, Burwood – its called All Peoples .. its well known within the Chinese community. Another secret is Gold Pond in Vermont, the small dining room is so popular that its booked months in advance, and is boarded up so that the public wouldn’t even know that it exists in that sleepy location. It serves up speciality dishes which are pre ordered.

    Reply
  14. Phil Lees

    querycurio – You’re right. There is some fantastic Chinese food in Melbourne but it is in the minority and generally hard to find. If you picked a Chinese restaurant at random from an Australian phone book, I could almost guarantee you that it would be bad.

    Reply
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  16. Bob

    “Chinese food in Australia is for the most part, awful …” , strange – where have you been eating ? There *are* plenty of bad Chinese restaurants here (as there are Italian, Indian, French, Japanese, etc etc) but there ane many good ones as well, some truly excellent. As for the rest of Australia, I don’t know, but one has a better chance of hitting on good Cantonese food in Melbourne than on good Italian fare. Its the Indian eating places in this city which are usually awful – just a very few notable exceptions.
    As one of the previous posters noted Chinese food has been around (in Victoria at least) since the gold rush, mainly Cantonese as southerners predominated among those seeking gold. The cessation of migration at Federation (White Australia Policy) cut of that flow of natives which seems necessary to keep honest any cuisine transplanted to a foreign land. Throughout the last century just about every Victorian country town had its Chinese restaurant and in most the food had become ‘adjusted to Australian tastes’ (one could discern the Chinese origin of a dish, sometimes only with a fair effort !) Despite this genuine Cantonese food has been available in Melbourne for a long time. When my Cantonese parents-in- law (gourmets from Singapore) came to visit in the early 1970’s they arrived with low expectations in relation to eating but were amazed at what they found. Some dishes (helped by the availability of better ingredients) they said were better than what could be had in Singapore. It’s only got better in the years since.
    The large migration (and temporary student residents) of the past decade have provided a new stimulus to quality Chinese food as well as increased diversity, as unlike in gold rush times, the recent arrivals are from many parts of China.
    Aussie palates and perceptions still remain a threat to a continuation of high quality Chinese cuisine in this country (as, too, for all manner of other cuisines) – witness the ignorant writing which regularly masquerades as food reviews in our broadsheets …. and the diners with bottles of wine even in “classy” Chinese restaurants. I’ve seen a party drinking Grange with dim sum at what is probably the city’s best dim sum restaurant; God help us !!

    Reply
  17. Gilbert

    I know this is an old thread, but thought I’d contribute what I learnt about halal food in Xinjiang during my trip there last year.

    The majority of the Uyghurs and other local ethnic groups are Muslim (referred to as the Hui religion in China), however most of the Han Chinese are not.

    Hence there are both halal and non-halal restaurants in Xinjiang. Halal restaurants have signs advertising their status, often a crescent moon and the Chinese words for halal, qing zhen. Non-halal restaurants refer to themselves as Han cuisine restaurants.

    I’ve not been to One-plus-One, so I guess its halal status depends on the owner’s heritage.

    Oh, and no one from Xinjiang speaks Cantonese or any of the southern dialects. :P

    Reply
  18. Jess

    A few years ago, I spoke to a really nice couple from Xinjiang who were considering opening up a restaurant in Melbourne. The wife was Uyghur, studying for her PhD on a government scholarship, and her husband was one of the other, less recognisable, ethnic minorities of Xinjiang. I don’t know if they ever did follow up with that, but if anyone knows of any Uyghur-ish restaurants that have opened up around Melbourne over the past couple of years, let me know~

    On a less related note, I wish people would stop romanticising ethnic histories just because they dislike the PRC. Tibet “maintained strong relationships” with the Uyghurs? Come on. The Uyghur Khaganate went to war with the Tibetan Empire more than a few times throughout history. The Tibetans invaded and conquered what is now Xinjiang, as well. Uyghurs and Tibetans fought brutally against one another in the past. Not everything was a happy, magical, Shangri-la paradise before China came along.

    Reply

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