Shanghai Muslim Market: Friday's friendly, foodie bazaar
Meimei Ti, a migrant from China’s Northwest Xinjiang Province, wanders over to Changde Lu around 9:30am on Friday morning. He unrolls his Persian rug and places his fruits on a few turned boxes. His stand is now open.
Next to Meimei Ti, Eli takes out metal bowls filled with sweet-diced pumpkin and carrots from the back of his truck, while his brother prepares the dough for their manti. Eli pinches the dough, nimbly enveloping the pumpkin mixture with his fingers.
By 11am, all of the vendors have set up carts outside the Friday meeting place for one of the city’s Uighur communities, Huxi Mosque. With just a few hours before Jumu’ah, the one o’clock Islamic Friday Prayer, this small section of Changde Lu, in north Jing’an less than a city block in length, is alive.
A growing Shanghai Muslim community
“Five or six years ago,” says Guan Yu Sheng, a history teacher, “there was nothing here. Now, look around, it is a haven for Shanghai Muslims and Uighurs.”
Guan, a Han Chinese, is a converted Muslim from Hangzhou. “I come here every Friday. I don’t mind that it’s far, because this is my community too.”
Most of these people travel even further, originally being from Xinjiang Province, China’s most northwestern territory. But Guan’s sentiment of community is very apparent here.
We sat down with Emit, a kabob vendor, over a plate of luscious marinated naan, with carrots and potatoes.
“Every Friday, we come here to see friends in the community,” he tells us. “And each week, there are more people here. If our friends go home [to Xinjiang Province], we give them news to tell our families, and want to hear about them upon their return.
“They also bring back the things we sell in the marketplace –- the carpets, the incense and the furs. Oh and of course the lamb.”
The secret’s in the lamb
The meat used in most of the aromatic and well-spiced Uighur dishes is not from typical sheep; they hail from Central Asia, and are heartier than most. The fat from the tail in particular, explains Emit, helps season the polos -- a rice dish boasting garlic, onions, and carrots, and generously topped with a piece of this breed of lamb.
Yusuf, who diligently secures each piece of meat to its bamboo stick, divulges the secret to why Uighur lamb kabobs -- yangrou chuar’n -- are so succulent and delicious: “On the kabobs, we alternate each piece of meat with a piece of fat from the tail of the animal. It provides rich flavor.” These chuan’r are best complemented with a sprinkling of cumin, pepper and paprika.
Making a new home
“If it weren’t for this Shanghai Muslim market,” says Meimei Ti, “I wouldn’t be able to sell these fruits from the province. They are a little more expensive, but that is the price for a little taste of home.”
Munirai and her family look forward to Fridays early each week. They dress in traditional Uighur costume, and for them, this market is an opportunity to show and teach other people about their culture.
“Of course we like seeing our Uighur friends each week,” she explains. “But, I enjoy having other people come and sit at my table and eat my food. I like telling them about my home.”
The memories of home for this community are not as sweet as those for many of us. Instead, most of these Uighurs were forced out of Xinjiang to find better economic opportunities in a bigger city, like Shanghai.
But surrounded by the familiar smells of home while naan steam and kabobs sizzle, they have certainly created a little slice of Uighur heaven.
No. 4, Lane 1328 Changde Lu, near Aomen Lu
tel +86 21 6277 2076
Friday Shanghai Muslim Market
Changde Lu in between Aomen Lu and Yichang Lu
Every Friday, 11am onwards