This article original appeared in Serious Eats.
In China’s remote far west, Kashgar sits like a punctuation mark between China and Central Asia, along the Silk Road. For two millennia, the oasis city has enticed travelers with labyrinthine alleys filled with the smoke of char-grilled meat, the scent of spice, and the hawker cries of pomegranate vendors. But while it lies in the region of Xinjiang, within China’s borders, Kashgar’s cuisine shares little with traditional Chinese food.
Instead, it’s heavily influenced by the local Uyghur people, a community of Turkic-speaking Muslims. Facing a gallery of sometimes difficult neighbors—Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tibet, India, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan—Kashgar has experienced a turbulent history of outside interference and internal conflict. The Chinese might be the most recent to govern, but Kashgar has been ruled by the Tibetan, Persian, Turkic, and Mongol empires in turn. Thanks to this revolving door of influences, the city’s cuisine is a splendid mosaic of Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Chinese flavors.
Kashgar’s food resonates with tastes typically associated with the Middle East—cumin, chili, cinnamon, garlic, saffron, and sesame. The city’s rich culinary life surprises on every corner of its winding streets, as spice-sprinkled lamb sizzles over charcoal pits, bakers haul rounds of bread from tall tonur (outdoor pit ovens), and women sell tiny bowls of tart yogurt sprinkled with sugar…