All singing, all dancing extravaganza.
A few weeks ago, we went to eat at a Uighur restaurant called "Shanghai Xinjiang Fengwei Fandian," which I shall henceforth, for all of our sakes, refer to simply as "the restaurant." For those of you who aren't up on your Chinese ethnic groups--really, what have you been doing with your time?--the Uighurs (wee-grrrs, sort of) are the Muslim minority for Xinjiang (sheen-gee-ong) province way up in the northwest of China. This makes Uighur restaurants different from your normal Chinese restaurant in one very important way: no pork. The Chinese might only have one-fifth of the world's population, but they eat about half the pork in the world, which means there's pork on pretty much everything--even a lot of the vegetarian dishes have pork sprinkled over the top. (Seriously--that last part's not a joke.) So without pork, the big draw at Xinjiang restaurants is lamb: roast lamb, lamb kebabs, lamb pancakes ... you get the idea.
Anyway, the restaurant was really close to our apartment, the roast lamb was supposed to be good, and someone's guidebook described it as a "raucous, and hearty dining experience complete with whooping and dancing waiters." That, plus the promise of "fake foliage" (again, from the guidebook) was enough to sell us, so after work we decided to go seek it out.
We knew we were getting close when we saw a guy barbequing meat. For some reason that I have yet to comprehend, the Uighurs--as I have mentioned before--seem to have a meat-on-a-stick monopoly. Sometimes it's just a portable grill set up on a street corner, but when it's part of a restaurant, they usually have a nicer barbeque on street level for meat-on-a-stick take-out, like this:
Even though it was only 6:30 PM or so, the garbage can by the barbeque man was already overflowing. I took this to be a good sign:
The inside of the restaurant. The fake foliage is lovely, don't you think?
Actual Uighurs! As you can see, they don't really look Chinese. If I saw them on the street and had to guess, I would probably say they were Turkish, although I have no idea why, since, like most Americans, my experience with Turkey is generally confined to Thanksgiving and the days immediately following. (Ding!) The guy in the spangley red shirt is serving the roast lamb:
Not surprisingly, the food was very different from Chinese food, what with the Uighurs not being very Chinese and all. (In fact, even I could tell that their Mandarin pronunciation was terrible, which is really, really saying something.) The doughy thing had spiced lamb inside it (what else?) and the waiters came around every once in a while and gave them to everyone at the table. I'm not going to say how many I ate, but I will say that you might have to use more than one hand to count the number. Also, the beer--Xinjiang Black Beer--was dark, which was a nice change from my usual Tsing Tao based diet:
Really, is there anywhere in the world that doesn't have French fries? I think that, along with champagne and brie, the fry has to be the single greatest thing the French ever created, don't you? (And Paris--AKA "the Shanghai of the East"--is also not too shitty.) And sure, these fries were made out of yams and there was no ketchup to be found anywhere, but a fry is a fry, as far as I'm concerned:
Finally, our friend in the red shirt showed up with the main course: a big chunk of roast lamb. Really, it's like they just tore a piece off of a whole roast lamb in the back, put it on a plate, and plopped it on our table. Actually, that's probably exactly what happened, now that I think about it:
Of course, my first question was how we were supposed to eat it. I mean, I've gotten pretty good with chopsticks, but I think "hunk of lamb" is beyond my skill. Luckily, we got our answer moments later when a guy came around and gave us all a plastic glove. Classy:
Our entire meal. This picture was taken about halfway through--there wasn't much left by the time we were done. I'd use the phrase "ravenous wolves," but I think that's a bit of a cliché, and I'm obviously a way better writer than that. You can tell by the way I slipped the "ravenous wolves" thing in (twice!) by saying I didn't like it, thereby letting me use it but still keep my writing integrity. Clever, I know:
I have to say, I loved the glove. After a few minutes, I just abandoned the chopsticks entirely and went to strictly glove-based eating. So simple, yet so efficient--way better than the fork. I'm hoping that before we go home, restaurants in Seattle will have caught on and gotten rid of the silverware in favor of the plastic glove. I'm not optimistic, but you never know:
There is, I will admit, one downside to eating with the glove--it's a bit messy. Well, maybe more than a bit:
After dinner, we were about to ask for our bill and leave when the "whooping and dancing waiters" portion of the night began. Remember our spangley-shirted waiter? Turns out that, besides serving lamb, he also sings and plays a mean piano, if by "piano" you mean "electric Casio keyboard." That, my friends, is talent. And once he started playing his "piano" and singing, the restaurant basically stopped operating for the next ten minutes or fifteen minutes because all the waiters started dancing around with each other in the center of the room.
Which would have been all fine and good, except after three or four minutes the waiters started making their way around the dining room and pulling people out to dance with them. Can you see where this is going? (If you've managed to read this much text in a non-rhyming format, a la Dr. Seuss, I'm guessing the answer is yes.) Apparently the allure of a table-full of foreigners was too much, because they didn't waste any time dancing right on over to our table and pulling us out onto the dance floor. I have to admit that I resisted quite strenuously at first, but eventually gave in. Here, then, is the only picture you will ever see of me dancing. Thankfully, Holly couldn't figure out how to get the flash on my camera to work, so it's almost too blurry to tell what anything is. I will, however, tell you that the handsome, charming white guy with the shaved head and black "Izod" shirt in the middle is yours truly:
Interestingly enough, I have now been to two different Xinjiang restaurants in my life and had to dance both times. Not exactly what I look for in a dining experience, yet the food was so good--and, of course, there's also my previously professed love for the glove--that I will definitely go back to this place before we leave. Even if it means that I have to dance ...