Where (& Where Not) to Eat Xinjiang Food in Shanghai

By Sophie Steiner, January 9, 2024

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As China’s largest administrative division, landlocked Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region encompasses shifting sand deserts, lush grasslands, breathtaking lakes, snow-capped mountains, verdant forests, lively cities, historical relics, religious sites, natural wonders, and a cultural mix of ethnic minorities, making Xinjiang one of China’s best kept travel destination secrets.

READ MORE: Xinjiang: Mountains and Minorities, Scenery and Spice

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Karakoram Highway, Xinjiang, Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

As with its climate, altitude and landscape, Xinjiang’s population is equally as diverse – a Silk Road-influenced history culminating in a cultural melting pot of Uyghurs, Tajiks, Mongols, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Han Chinese and many more. 

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And all this diversity translates to a rich cuisine full of well-traversed spices, a wealth of proteins, and some of China’s most varied (and flavorful) produce. 

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While jetting off on a five-hour flight to Urumuqi may not be in the cards for your standard weekend, Shanghai does boast a formidable Xinjiang population and quite a few standout (and not so standout) offerings that afford us a glimpse into the region’s abundant cuisine. 

Here’s a roundup of where we’ve been satisfying our Xinjiang food cravings lately. 


Jia Ge Mian 加个面

Metro Town Mall – or Meigui Fang (玫瑰坊) – may be best known for its Japanese eateries, but the B2 food court is a maze of local snack stalls, bakeries, noodle houses and more – offering a new place to eat every day for a year! 

READ MORE: We Walked in a Mall in Shanghai and Fell Into a Tokyo Wormhole

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On our most recent visit, we stopped into Jia Ge Mian – an unassuming 20-seater that serves up some of the best Dapanji (RMB98) – or Big Plate Chicken – in the city.

For starters, the portions are excessive. Yes, we get by the name that it’s going to be a “big plate,” but the serving size could easily satisfy four.

This heaping platter of slowly braised chicken stew packs some major heat, with thick slabs of potato, slices of green and red peppers, chopped leeks, onions, and crushed garlic all slick with a cumin, star anise, and Sichuan peppercorn-laced viscous roux.

Freshly-pulled wide noodles – called laghman – bathe in a moat of excess chili oil, soaking up the leftover broth, and allowing diners to savor every last drop.

The biggest win? The meaty morsels are boneless – no unhappy surprises with a hidden shard slicing the roof of your mouth whilst trying to gleefully chomp on a seemingly juicy hunk of thigh.

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Equally generous in serving size, the Ding Ding Chao Mian (RMB33) are pleasantly chewy 'dough drops' of misshapen noodle ends, interspersed with stir-fried nibs of peppers, onions and fried lamb.

The noodles are the width of a chopstick, first pulled, then sliced into fingernail size pieces, slightly pressed on the ends to create varying thickness. 

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The small noodle shape makes this dish tedious to go at with chopsticks, so pick up that spoon, and make it all the more crushable. 

Jia Ge Mian 加个面, #A13, B/2, 890 Changning Lu, by Huichuan Lu 长宁路龙之梦B2城市集市A13, 近汇川路.


Pang Pang Jun’s Xinjiang Pilaf 胖胖君的新疆抓饭

Instead of offering a whole slew of Xinjiang dishes, Pang Pang Jun’s Xinjiang Pilaf offers just one thing – you guessed it: Xinjiang pilaf.

Polo, polov, plov or zhuafan (抓饭) – however you choose to refer to it – has the same basic building blocks; enormous vats holding hundreds of portions are filled to the brim with fat-glistening rice, chunks of caramelized sweet carrots, sweet raisins, and slowly braised lamb meat.  

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Here, diners can choose their cut of meat – Lamb Leg (RMB49), Lamb Backbone (RMB42), Lamb Ribs (RMB31/one, RMB42/two), Beef Pieces (RMB29/small, RMB40/large) or No Meat (RMB26) – finished with pickled carrots – a pop of vinegar to cut through the lamb’s fat. 

All portions are served with some epically heartwarming lamb broth – one capable of curing all ailments, from hunger to hangover to heartbreak.

Aside from the pilaf, there’s Xinjiang style milk tea, homemade yogurt, Xinjiang beer… and that’s it.

Highly specialized and for good reason. 

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The venue itself is an experience – a canteen tucked down an alley with those pulsing halogen glow lights, cracked tile flooring, and timeworn walls.

Befitting the décor, even dine-in patrons are served on paper plates with disposable chopsticks, and sip vaguely chilled beer from paper cups. 

In other words, they highly encourage dabao.

Yet, we highly vouch for the dining experience – a true taste of the authentic underbelly of Shanghai’s dining scene, located mere blocks from some of the city’s most acclaimed, awarded, and even Michelin-starred venues. 

Pang Pang Jun’s Xinjiang Pilaf胖胖君的新疆抓饭, No. 8, Lane 460, Jiangxi Zhong Lu, by Sichuan Zhong Lu 外滩街道江西中路460弄8号, 近四川中路.


Xia Ha Re Mu 夏哈热木

Situated on Aomen Lu (where the old Muslim Market used to take place every Friday morning) and across from the Shanghai Huxi Mosque (上海沪西清真寺) – the first rebuilt mosque in the city after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China – is Xia Ha Re Mu 夏哈热木, a casual Xinjiang eatery ran by a Uyghur family.

This locale does the majority of its business in waimai these days, but pre-COVID it brought in loads of foot traffic, particularly on Fridays at the market, where they would sell their myriad of freshly baked Xinjiang pastries and cakes alongside behemoth vats of zhua fan, or polo – a type of rice pilaf common across the region made with sweet yellow and orange carrots, succulent lamb meat, and raisins (see more details above).

The current venue still sells these plates – plus many more traditional Xinjiang dishes – at pocket-friendly prices. 

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Serving more than a dozen regional desserts by the piece and by the kilo makes Xia He Re Mu a worthwhile stop alone, with options spanning Xinjiang Milk Cake (RMB6) – Xinjiang's flaky pastry answer to tres leches – to layered Walnut Date Tart, from Crushed Pistachio Baklava to Velvety Rice Pudding. 

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Sweets aside, a main draw is the Gan Bian Chao Mian (RMB30) (干煸炒面), with thick cords of udon-like noodles stir-fried in oil and spices, along with tender pieces of fried lamb, fiery dried chilis, onions, garlic, spinach and a sprinkling of white sesame seeds.

These righteous noodles are an exact replica of some of the best versions we tasted previously in actual Xinjiang, bringing the most authentic taste of the region right to Shanghai through a greasy heap of oh-so-comforting carbs. 

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Seasoned and spiced cubes of naan bread are sautéed with fatty lamb pieces, sweet red onion and a metric ton of garlic as the Naan Bread with Lamb (RMB36) – because nothing makes carbs taste better than frying them.

Our only gripe is the meat-to-bread ratio skews forcefully towards bread – but that’s what you can expect for just 36 rambos. 

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To get a read on the ol’ barometer for any Xinjiang restaurant, chuar (grilled meat skewers) are a must-order; juicy licks of lamb, beef, or all matter of intestines skewered and seared on a charcoal grill, seasoned with Xinjiang spices – like cumin, star anise, and ground Sichuan peppercorns.

We found the Lamb Chuar (RMB10) to be overly soft – in contrast to the expertly charred mutton pieces dotted throughout other dishes – but the Beef Chuar (RMB10) more than made up for it, arriving tableside still sizzling. 

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The Wheat Gluten with Spinach (RMB19) is fresher than the other oil-laden plates, a zippy vinegar and chili sauce soaking into the spongy cubes. 

Xia He Re Mu 夏哈热木, 735 Aomen Lu, by Changde Lu,澳门路735号, 近常德路.


Xibo 

As one of Shanghai’s most beloved and longstanding Xinjiang restaurants, Xibo is a must on any list. 

While most Xinjiang restaurants in Shanghai are Uyghur-owned, Xibo is represents the Sibe ethnic minority, a nomadic people originally living in Northeast China; during the Qianlong period of the Qing Dynasty, a significant number of Xibo soldiers were stationed in Xinjiang's Yili, creating a new community there. 

The unique history and culture of the Xibo people shaped their cuisine, which now includes Xibo flatbread, whole roasted lamb, Susskind, burhashek fish stew, morshek, and other regional delicacies that represent the coming together of the Northeast Asian diet and traditional Xibo dishes.

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Skipping out on an order of assorted skewers from the charcoal grill at Xibo is like not seeing your parents when you go back home for a visit – it just can’t be done.

The succulently scorched meats – like Tamarisk Lamb (RMB18), Beef (RMB15) and Chicken (RMB10) – flecked with savory cumin and chili flakes (among a smattering of other secret spices) make it easy to forget about the rest of your order.

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Like Xinjiang’s take on a pizza, the Deep-Fried Bread (RMB72) is stuffed with spiced lamb, onions, mushrooms, and a heap of mozzarella cheese that pulls apart in stretchy threads.

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The woody aroma of cumin hits your nostrils before the Wok-fried Lamb Ribs (RMB108) arrive tableside – alternating pleats of gamey meat and melting fat sheathed below a crispy crust of spice-dusted flesh.

The fried lamb is sourced directly from the grasslands of Xinjiang, specifically focusing on lambs under 12 months old. 

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On our most recent visited, we tried a newer offering: Wok-fried Dried Beef (RMB88) from the Tacheng region of Xinjiang, sautéed with white wood ear mushrooms, sundried sweet Xinjiang peppers (辣皮子), and qingjiao – crinkly green peppers that bring the heat.

A go-to dish we plan to reorder on every future visit. 

From Ba Chu mushrooms and lavender, to Kashgar dried figs and apricots; from Turpan raisins and cumin to Changji yellow carrots and chickpeas, Xibo is all about providing visitors with a true Xinjiang experience in an upscale setting. 

See listings for Xibo.


Yershari 耶里夏丽

A popular Xinjiang chain, Yershari is known for its mealtime performances – employees dressed up in Taobao’d Disney princess-meets-Xinjiang costumes shimmying their way around the tables while music blares from blown-out speakers.

There are clanging tambourines, a fast-paced waist swaying element that we believe is tangentially related to belly dancing, and a lot of communal shriek-singing. 

You know, exactly the vibe you’re going for when eating a quick lunch in a shopping mall.  

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During this epically entertaining meal, diners can enjoy Yershari’s unnervingly economical lunch sets that are maybe just too affordable.

For RMB28.80, customers can take down a single serving portion of big plate chicken, two lamb and onion-filled roasted kaobing pockets, and a piece of date cake.

That’s easily a day’s worth of calories for under 30 kuai.

Too cheap.

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And you get what you pay for; the big plate chicken is essentially oily chicken parts with pedestrian noodles straight out of a bag – no hand-pulled goodness here.

While the flavor of this Xinjiang trademark dish is usually in the thick stew, this big plate chicken’s got just…oil.

(Okay, maybe there’s a dab of chili in there to help coat a few peppers, some mealy potatoes and uncooked garlic cloves.)

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So sure, all the components of the dish may be there, but it tastes like a Big Plate Chicken that went to private school in the suburbs. 

Zero spirit. 

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The kaobing is equally forgettable – a few pieces of spiced lamb inside thick breading – while the date cake is your standard airy sponge with indistinguishable sweetness. 

There are also a few RMB38.80 sets with different Xinjiang rice and noodle dishes plus milk tea – but after choking down their signature dish, we gave those a pass. 

Verdict: Bypass Yershari for any other venue on this list when the Xinjiang craving hits. 

Yershari 耶里夏丽, 5/F, 819 Nanjing Dong Lu, by Xizang Lu, 南京东路819号L5, 近西藏路.


And a Few More Classics...

Aside from the eateries above, there are also these common waiguoren-favorite Xinjiang haunts:

  • Sapar (新疆伊宁远征餐厅) on Yuyuan Lu Branch Road – where the chuar stand emanates the smoky aroma of scorching lamb into the wee hours of the morning.

  • Anar Kawap (石榴烤肉) in Julu758 – beloved for their fragrant polo rice and late night lamb skewers.

  • Dongfang Yake Xi Canting (东方亚克西餐厅) on Xikang Lu, with their Kashgar Old Town-themed décor, and where they will roast you up an entire lamb if you call ahead.

  • Ai Si Yangrou Chuan (爱斯羊肉串) doling out grilled lamb parts and urn-roasted naan to the weekend Yanping and Wuding Lu drinking crowd, a Shanghai late-night rite of passage.

And a quick search of 新疆菜 on dianping will reveal dozens, if not hundreds, more options. 


[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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