What’s Uyghur Cuisine?
Queen Amannisa serves this unique blend of Asian and Middle Eastern cooking in Crystal City.
When Queen Amannisa opened in Crystal City in 2015, it was the first restaurant in the area to offer the cuisine of the Uyghur (pronounced WEE-gur) people, who live primarily in the Xinjiang region of Western China that borders Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. We caught up with 25-year-old co-owner Yimamu Maimaiti to get the lowdown on the food that many say will be the next big thing in the U.S.
What makes Uyghur food distinctive?
Our culture is so blended: Central Asian, Chinese, Turkish, Uzbeki, Russian, Persian. We are on the Silk Road. All of those cultures and flavors come together there.
How did you and Patiguli Baikeli come to open a restaurant together?
I married her daughter. Their family has had a restaurant of the same name in Beijing for 40 years. There were no Uyghur restaurants here, so we had to start one ourselves.
Any suggestions for diners trying Uyghur food for the first time?
Something authentic and traditional. Samsa [meat pie] is lamb, onions, garlic, cumin and other spices wrapped in homemade dough. For entrées, kabobs. We do small pieces and marinate them for 24 hours, so the meat has a taste before you cook it. You could eat it raw. And, of course, you must have laghman [wheat flour] noodles. We make five different kinds: short, chopped, pressed, fried and one long noodle.
Why one long noodle?
All Uyghur women can make noodles. The tradition dates back to before Marco Polo. It takes real skill to stretch piece by piece, slam the dough on the board to give it elasticity. If you’re really good, the noodle won’t break. It takes real technique to keep it in one piece, so it’s a mark of honor.
Who was Queen Amannisa?
The mother of Uyghur classical music [1526-1560]. She didn’t invent the instruments, but she put together what are called the 12 muqam [a musical canon made up of 360 works and comprising poetry, dance, instrumentals and storytelling].
This place is like a melting pot. We picked Arlington to attract other cultures to our food. If we were to open just for our people, we would open in Fairfax. That’s where most Uyghur people are in this area.
Why is Uyghur cuisine just catching on now?
We came to the U.S. late—in the 1980s and ’90s—for education, for business. No one knew Chinese or
Italian food when [those immigrants] first came to this country. I want Uyghur food to be everywhere, like at home.