This morning, I ate my last sesame seed bread roll for breakfast. It was definitely time for another run to the best bread place in town. This would have to be the nearest restaurant of our Muslim friends from the northern regions of Xinjiang Province.
There are a number of Muslim restaurants and bread makers throughout Chengdu but the closest to me has to be that at the North Gate of Sichuan University. It’s a 20-minute walk from the West Gate, where I live, and is usually a lovely stroll along the sidewalks of the campus. But today, in the sizzling heat of the late afternoon, I decided the best route to take was by pedicab. Little Flower was wanting a walk but I knew in this weather, it was best she and I took it easy with a ride.
For 3 yuan (40 cents) our pedicab cyclist had us to the north gate in no time. LF enjoyed the ride while sitting on my lap, the cool breeze giving us some relief from the waves of heat coming up off the pavement.
“How much was you dog?” our cyclist asked.
Chinese never have any qualms when it comes to asking how much you paid for something. New clothes, apartment rental, appliances, even food weighed and purchased in the market are all things everyone wants to know how much you paid. After the answer is given, there will usually be some negative comment that follows, like the quality wasn’t good enough for that price or the meat doesn’t look very fresh, you should have gone somewhere else. Chinese don’t mean to be rude but it’s just an observation. You, of course, are very welcome to either agree with them or adamantly defend yourself. In fact, it’s usually expected.
When it comes to LF, everyone is always interested to know what I would pay for a dog. She wasn’t very much, but considering she was sick when I got her, I probably paid too much.
“300 yuan ($30),” I replied.
“Oh! So expensive!” the driver said, shaking his head.
Considering he makes about $15 a day, I’d have to agree with him. (He’d really have a fit if he knew how much I paid for her dog food.)
“Yes, she was expensive,” I agreed, “but foreigners really love dogs. She was cheaper than others. Some people pay over $100 for a dog.”
“Too expensive,” my cyclist remarked, then added, “Some Chinese are very rich.”
“Jiushi (yes),” I had to agree with him.
At the North Gate, I noticed that the lotus flowers were finally beginning to bloom. A sea of green leaves with the tall lotus stems topped with their flowers filled both the small ponds near the gate.
A few days ago, I saw some students who had rented bamboo rods and were fishing from the dark green waters, unfortunately a bit trashy. It’s not very deep and I doubt they caught anything much but a minnow or two but they were obviously having a good time.
From the North Gate, it’s just a short walk along the busy main street to get to the Muslim restaurant. I first noticed the place because I thought I saw two Westerners sitting outside on stools. In fact, they were Chinese from Xinjiang Province. They look much like those from Turkey and other parts of the Middle East due to their nearness to those regions. They don’t have the facial features of the Han Chinese at all. But what enticed me the most to their shop were the lovely baked, crispy breads that were carefully arrayed on the outside ledge, next to the huge wok where they’d been baked. There were several kinds. One looked like cooked pizza dough, without the topping. Others were crusty buns, much like a bagel without a hole, and another variety with a cut flower design. Each one was dusted with sesame seeds.
Aside from the bread, there were little meat pies filled with minced lamb and lamb kabobs nearby roasting above hot coals. These lamb kabobs are probably the most famous Xinjiang snack sold throughout all of China. Many Muslims from Xinjiang travel all over the country with their kabob sticks, coals and cooking set-up where they sell their goods at night markets, along streets or in small parks. The Chinese love lamb kabobs from Xinjiang because of the special flavorings the natives use when cooking them. However, in Sichuan, the only flavoring you’re likely to have is the spicy hot red pepper sprinkles. In my opinion, that pretty much ruins any feeling of being in Xinjiang Province or tasting true Xinjiang lamb when it’s doused in Sichuan dried chili pepper bits.
Of course, there’re also sit-down dishes you can order but I’m just one for the bread.
The pizza dough crust is 21 cents, the slightly sweet buns and meat pies are 14 cents. Each kabob is also 14 cents but you don’t get much but some grisly, fatty lamb slivers. Most Chinese order 5 or 6 kabobs at once (70- 85 cents) and eat those as a snack. Friday and Saturday nights are especially busy for these Muslim cooks because of their nearness to the university. Thousands of students walk the sidewalks in the evening as all the food venders and street sellers come out. Weekends are the best business days for these kind of food and merchandise sellers.
After purchasing my bread, it was too hot a day to go anywhere else. LF and I headed back to the university gate for a quick walk back home through the campus. Both of us were hot upon our arrival home but we did have a special treat for all our efforts.
For me, it was a warm, crispy, light bread bun. For LF, the filling from a meat pie.
As for Little Ghost, who had stayed behind, even she enjoyed something from our Muslim friends. The small plastic bag the bread had come in entertained her with loads of kitten floor-play for a good 15 minutes.
Not sure who got the most out of our bread visit, us or the cat, but one thing’s for sure: Our Xinjiang friends certainly made this little family of three very happy.
From Chengdu, wishing you and your family “Ping An!” for the weekend.