Dungan National Dishes and Culinary Highlights
Addressing the nation of Kazakhstan in 2013, the President said, “Kazakhs and representatives of other ethnic communities within our country have been able to preserve their authentic culture in spite of the hardships of tsarist regime, revolutionary turmoil, and totalitarism.” His latest New Year speech says, “We are the people of Kazakhstan! We share the destiny of Mangylyk El, our great and most decent Kazakhstan! Mangylyk El is the national idea of one home, the dream of our ancestors. Over 22 years of independent development, chief values have been created to unite all Kazakhstani people and make the basis for our country. They are no lofty ideals. The values are the experience of the great Kazakhstani Way, which has withstood the challenge of time.” National unity, social peace and consent result from shared history, culture, and language. The Dungans are one of the 100 ethnic groups that have not lost their ancestral legacy in history, preserving the authentic stability of their country and contributing to the republic’s progress. It is no surprise that we feel curious about the national culture, traditions, and cuisine of a certain ethnic group. The Dungans are one of such groups. People are mostly interested in Dungan cuisine. Some of us love Dungan foods, as good cooking is greatly appreciated in Almaty, where so many people live. Undoubtedly, their delicious lamian and other dishes have won many hearts. However, not everybody knows how Dungan culinary highlights are cooked and what they consist of. The Dungans, who have experienced all kinds of historic events, including total migration, is one of the 130 ethnic groups sharing home with the Kazakhs. They have been able to preserve their traditions, customs, and culture, including cuisine, in spite of all the hardships. When Labbe, a member of the Paris Geography Society, came to Karakonyz, Pishpek Uyezd, Zhetysu Region in 1989, and tried the festive Dungan dishes, he expressed his appreciation of Dungan cuisine, “I have never eaten anything nearly as delicious as the Dungan dishes during my travel to the Asian part of Russia.”
Urban or rural, Dungans have a special kitchen called guanzy. Guanzy is a cooking place. Some Dungan dishes are very similar to Kazakh ones. Initially, the Dungans did not eat dairy foods. However, they have come to eat milk-based dishes on a daily basis. Meat is served to guests of honor. Dungans teach their children to cook at an early age. There is always a knowhow and certain enthusiasm behind a delicious dish. Special emphasis is laid on cleanness. The person cooking should be very neat and precise in her actions from the moment she washes the ingredients until the dish has been served. In case the food appears not spotless, the chef’s culinary skill is criticized.
Basic ingredients for everyday Dungan foods include meat cooked in oil, flour, rice, and vegetables.
A separate room is used for cooking. As has been mentioned above, cleanness is of special importance for the Dungans. Thus, every woman who is going to cook is expected to wear an apron and a hair wrap and washes her hands thoroughly. The ingredients should be washed and cut properly. Food should be cut into small thin, long, or square pieces. If the requirement is not met, the food can be overcooked. Ingredients should not be mixed before cooking. The dish should be put into a plate just before serving. The principle is meant to prevent food from losing its shape because of constant change of plates and pans. Intense fire is used to cook most Dugan dishes. There are two basic cooking methods called tso and zhu, the former is a sophisticated two-stage process. The first stage is that of giving the meat a fast fry, while the second one is about braising it. First, you pour oil into a pot, use it to fry the ingredients, add broth or water, ad stew the whole dish slowly. Tso is quick frying in a small amount of oil. Zhu is boiling food in a large amount of water. The latter is mostly used for poultry.
One of the reasons why Dungan dishes are so delicious is spices. The skill of spicing is essential for every Dungan chef. Spices not just savor up the dish but also give it color. The most popular spices are cloves, cumin, star anise, coriander, cinnamon, and others. The mix of five spices called tekhuye is used for meat dishes. The Dungans also eat seasonal vegetables. In spring, they have betse, or spinach, zhyutse, or garlic, tsun, or spring onions, etc.; in autumn, such squash types as chintu, luabu, dun luabu, and lyu luabu are popular. Khulu mifan is a rice dish cooked with tse fried meat.
Just like the Kazakhs, the Dungan people eat all kinds of meat and believe meat dishes to be nutritious. Fruit and berries are used too. They used to symbolize prosperity and embellish the table. For instance, Central Asian Dungan clothes were often decorated with peach ornaments. They were meant to indicate happiness and long life, while pomegranate grains were treated as symbols of joy and good health.
Whenever guests appeared unexpectedly, the host treated them to most delicious food. The Dungans believe guests to be God-sent, so they take great care of them and try to show utter respect. The Dungans believe guests to bring joy and happiness. They never ask a guest, “What would you like to eat?”, it would be disrespectful. The host cannot be the first to raise from the table, otherwise the guest can interpret it as a hint at his visit being too long. Burned rice and remnants should not be served to guests, as it indicates a lack of food. Guests should be polite as well. For instance, they are not expected to make noise with their crockery or food sticks, since it is believed to scare away wealth.
Dungan dishes fall into four categories.
1. Sweets – dya schin.
2. Light foods – tse.
3. Broths – ton.
4. Festive dishes – sypan, shi, zunzy.
Source of information: Newsletter of Almaty Technology University. Almaty, 2012. Issue 1