Friday, October 4, 2013

Grub Club Double Header: Xinjiang and Jazz

I was not the best scholar before I moved to China.  I knew it was communist, following dynasties of imperial reigns, but I didn't understand how diverse its people were, or how being united as one nation effected them, other than Tibet.  In fact, the first time I heard about Xinjiang Province was our first Christmas party at SUIS, at which I did not behave particularly well, but I DID enjoy the food.  I'd seen Uyghur (that's what you call the people who live in Xinjiang) restaurants, but had mistaken them for middle eastern restaurants because of the Arabic writing and the crescent moon motifs.  Well, Xinjiang Province is largely Muslim.  It wasn't until last spring - after living there for two years and consequently learning more about China and communism - that I started to wonder what that meant for the Uyghurs.  I found myself asking Michael Quinn why they hadn't been persecuted like the Tibetans had.  He managed to avoid rolling his eyes at me as he explained that of course they had.  Unfortunately for them, Muslims just aren't as loveable as Buddhists, and they don't have a political figurehead like the Dalai Lama for people to rally behind.
Well, if you missed it amongst all that verbal diarrhea, I liked Xinjiang food when I tried it.  In fact, I think it is the most delicious of all Chinese cuisines.  So I was pretty excited when I saw Xinjiang restaurant, a place near the state department store.  And I have been waiting to bring people here for grub club ever since, but Xinjiang Restaurant was a disappointment.  It really didn't have much that remotely resembled Xinjiang cuisine.  We tried to order some little baked dumplings, but they were bahkwei.  The skewers were also bahkwei, and if there's one thing that shouts Xinjiang to me, it's meat skewers.  So instead we ended up having peanuts and cucumbers, which are a standard at Chinese restaurants around here.  The beef "salad" is different, but while it was tasty and spicy, again, I've never seen anything like it at a Xinjiang restaurant.
Blondie went with her standard, chicken with peanuts.  It was not the kung pao chicken we've come to expect when ordering "chicken with peanuts."  It was actually sweet.  Ugh, what's up with that?!?
Engrish went for a pepper beef dish.  I think this might have been my favorite dish, but the beef was kind of chewy.  And at least it was beef...that was one "authentic" thing about this so-called Xinjiang place - they didn't serve pork.  Or, come to think of it, alcohol, in spite of the fact that it's not the first of the month.  If I'd been more prepared, I could have emptied my final tiny bottle.
The other contender for best dish was this - garlicky spinach thing?  It was savory, and you can never go wrong with garlic.
The one item that we were actually able to order that was almost authentic was the noodles.  They came with some tough mutton, not lamb, and didn't have peppers as advertised, but hey, the noodles were handmade.  And very, very long.  Anyways, this was the worst fail so far this year - Coach gave it a 1 overall, but he was being a dick - which means I now hold both the highest and lowest score for grub club this year.  Go me!

Afterwards we went out.  The Giant Steppes of Jazz is back, and while we'll miss the big gala concert while we're out west in Olgii, we got to see a performance at school yesterday, and decided to see an encore after grub club, since the UB Jazz Club is hosting performances each night.  The concert at school was AMAZING.  The musicians were SO talented, and included one big Hawaiian percussionist who had an awesome sense of rhythm - as it got toward the end of the concert, he actually stood up to play and was dancing around the stage as he switched from maracas to tambourine to other instruments we didn't even have names for.  They played some jazz standards, but infused them with Cuban flair.  One of my amazing homeroom students from last year was nodding his head to the beat for the entire concert.  Maybe so was I.

The combo we saw at the club last night was....ugh.  They were trying to do something clever, I think - their singer was a guy, but they were covering songs that were originally sung by women, and it didn't work out well for them.  The cover (or "tax," as they call it here) was 15,000 and included a cocktail, which we all thought we could choose, but it turned out we had to pay for the drinks we ordered, as we were served a 7&7 - some gin and 7-up thing?  Blondie got an extra one since I couldn't have mine.  And it took forever for them to actually get playing - it was 10 til 10 before they started, 20 minutes after Engrish left the building.  However, I finally got the 2nd edition of ASU Apples to Apples printed and so we ended up playing a couple rounds and being totally obnoxious while we waited, so it wasn't a total loss.

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