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Alex Wright

Middle East meets Far East: Trying out traditional Uighur cuisine in East London

This unassuming hidden gem is located just a two minutes from Finsbury Park [TNA]

Date of publication: 28 June, 2017

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Yalla, let's eat! Continuing our series focused on Middle Eastern restaurants, we make our way to Dilara in East London's Finsbury Park, where you can try delicious, traditional Uighur cuisine.
Dilara / Uyghur Restaurant @ London's Finsbury Park. Two-course meal with beers for £22.

Despite being one of China's largest ethnic groups, the Uighurs are not widely known by most people in Western countries – let alone their unique culinary tradition.

Hailing from the far north-western region of Xinjiang, the Uighurs are a traditionally Muslim group. They speak a Turkic language that is written in modified form of the Arabic alphabet.

Situated along the historic Silk Road, their food displays influences from both Chinese and other central Asian elements, creating a delicious fusion of the Middle East and the Far East – think doner kebab meets stir fry and had a baby.

Always up for new and exciting dining experiences, we at The New Arab decided to head down to the aptly named Uyghur Restaurant to try out some authentic regional Chinese grub that hopefully wouldn't include kung pao chicken.

This unassuming hidden gem is located just a two minutes walk away from Finsbury Park station on the busy Blackstock Road, which is a true testament to the neighbourhood's multi-ethnic population with an Ethiopian bakery feet away from a Halal butcher and the local pub.

     
      Kawaplar - kebab skewers 

The restaurant, which also doubles as a Turkish takeaway named Dilara, is a basic cafe decorated in unpretentious fare: goldfish alongside a mural of musicians playing Uighur lutes and fiddles.

Soon after we sat down we were warmly greeted by the restaurant's sociable owner Abdu, who was overjoyed to see Westerners in his little eatery.

"Our food is not as spicy as Chinese – they love spicy food too much – and not as bland as Turkish; We are in the middle," Abdu told us with a beaming smile on his face.

Their food displays influences from both Chinese and other central Asian elements, creating a delicious fusion of the Middle East and the Far East – think doner kebab meets stir fry and had a baby.

The menu is simple with large pictures of each dish to help the unaccustomed diner become acquainted with Uighur food, which is heavy on the meat and carbs.

With the guidance of our friendly host we chose to start off our meal with the popular street food kawaplar (kebab skewers), which we were told had to be eaten with the hot skewer parallel to the mouth, sliding the closest chunk of meat off with your teeth.

The kebabs were tender and succulent, perfectly seasoned with just right amount of chilli and pepper.

Next up, we had a massive plate of tagur – boiled dumplings stuffed with a mix of minced lamb, onions and herbs, served with a fragrant chilli soy dipping sauce.

     
      Tagur dumplings

They were heartwarmingly good, extremely moreish yet not too filling, leaving us with plenty of space for our mains.

The star of the show was lengmen – one of the most popular dishes of the ethnic group – which is made up of thick hand-made noodles topped with stir-fried beef and vegetables.

The dish is tangy and hearty, perfect for sharing although tough to eat using chopsticks so we requested knives and forks to get it all down without spilling it all over ourselves and the table.

The noodles were garnished in front of us with the marinated bits of beef and the mix of veggies, which includes tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies and aubergines.

Despite being filled to the brim with yummy food, I couldn't help but wish I had room to try the other meals on offer such as the polo rice – the Uighur version of pilaf rice – samosas and the large plate chicken. Oh well, there's always next time.

Our food is not as spicy as Chinese – they love spicy food too much – and not as bland as Turkish; We are in the middle

If you want to try out a cuisine not often available in a hospitable no-frills place with generous portions at a great price, then Uyghur Restaurant is definitely worth a visit.

Halal: Yes
Alcohol served: Yes, but only beer

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