Recently, a work colleague gave me a present of some bread. She tried to explain it to me in detail beforehand, and at first I thought she was offering fried, shallot crackers. Actually, she put a lot of effort into her description and I did wonder what on earth was so special about these shallot crackers. Surely, I could just buy something similar at a supermarket? There are lots of shallot crackers available to choose from.
However, when I got home and opened my parcel I realised that she had in fact given me something quite unique — Uighur-style bread. My photo below does not do the bread justice. The flat-bread was thin and flaky, slightly oily and topped with lightly toasted sesame seeds. The bread was filled with a black-spice mixture and fresh shallots: I could not pick exactly what the spices were, but at a guess I would say definitely black pepper and perhaps dried ginger. Whatever the secret mixture, it was slightly hot and very moorish. In the end I had to hide the bread and refuse my friend’s kind offer of more: it was definitely not diet friendly and the bread was so delicious that I had lots of trouble resisting.
I was surprised to find authentic Xinjiang bread in Taipei. But perhaps given Taiwan’s twentieth century history of migration I should have expected that all the food cuisines of China — not just those from eastern China — would be represented here. To give a regional perspective, Xinjiang province is situated in China’s far North-east corner bordering on Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and several other countries. The predominant ethnic group, the Uighurs, are predominately Muslim and tend to have more caucasian features (and habits) than Asian. A former classmate of mine from Turkey used to tell me that there were many cultural similarities between her culture and the Uighurs; there is a theory that the Uighurs are the ancestors of the Turkish people. I am no historian, but I find the mix of middle-Eastern and Chinese influences in Uighur cuisine fascinating. And delicious.
Unfortunately, the business (I think it is called “Qiang Xiang Hao” … the cursive script on their business card is hard to read) only specialises in Xinjiang-style bread and does not provide other Uighur-style food. (It is tempting, though, to just live on this bread alone as it is that good.) The business is quite particular about its ordering process, a sign that people seek them out rather than vice versa. They do not have a website, nor a shop-front for that matter, and only accept orders by fax (02 2832 4940). While there are phone contact details (02 2832 3665, mobile 0932 229 787), they advise NOT to leave orders by voicemail. The price is NT$30 for one piece of bread, $50 for two, $100 for five and they will provide five free if you place an order of $500. They encourage bulk orders (which is what my friend did), and only provide free delivery for orders $2000 and over.
While the bread is delicious as is, the instructions recommend heating it in a low oven for three to five minutes before serving. I was lazy and didn’t bother this with step, and my Xinjiang bread was still delicious. But I am sure that it would have been sublime if warmed. Try it both ways and let me know which one you like best.