From the portion size, you can tell they knew I was coming. From the reused cooking oil, you can tell I knew what I was getting into.
I consumed this tasty polo, better known to much of the world as mutton pilaf, at a hole-in-the-wall behind a cement truck in Ürümqi, Xinjiang, China. I got on a bus hoping to get to one of the train stations, and I ended up in a construction zone that made you wish you were running a marathon on a Beijing ring road.
Ordinarily, I’d shy away from this unctuous clump of lukewarm rice with carrots and mutton, but 手抓饭 shǒuzhuāfàn “rice seized with your hands” (or 炸饭zháfàn “exploded rice”) can count Xinjiang as one of its ancestral homes. At Xinjiang restaurants in Shenzhen, the Chinese city where I’ve spent the most time, it’s often extremely oily and served at places that won’t give you change for ten kuai (~US$1.64 these days)- who am I kidding, that’s everywhere. It’s also sweet, for the carrots impart a flavor that I prefer to reserve for dessert.
That’s the actual serving size. Oh LOOK, more carrots, but those were a nice, vinegary side dish this time. Tepid tea made with the freshest tap water, a table that looks like Ocean Drive in Miami and a spoon used by all of Xinjiang finish off the autumnal meal. Judging only by that quintessential Uyghur lunch, I wouldn’t be loathe to order it again.
How does polo sound to you?