The Uyghur girl who is staying with us for a few weeks cooked dinner the other night. It was really good. As we praised her skilled hand in the kitchen she started to open up and tell us a bit more about her past. “For the first two years after I got married my husband and I ran our own restaurant. I spent all day I the kitchen cooking.” That explained how she had in recorded time cut and fried up all the toppings. If I had been the one cooking, I would have still been standing at the counter trying to peel the potato.
Truth be told I am not that great in the kitchen when preparing common north American food, I am even worse when it comes to making Uyghur food. I have had the knife taken out of my hand by an old women, who when she saw how slowly I was working, kicked me out of her work space with the lame excuse of “Your wrists are too weak for this, go rest”. Having skilled hands for cooking is an important trait for a good wife in Uyghur culture. One more than one occasion when a person finds out if that I am over thirty and still single I get asked if I can cook Uyghur food. I try hard to turn the question into a light hearted joke.
In traditional Uyghur cuisine 80% of the diet is made up of just two main dishes: Polu and Laghmen. In order to make Laghman properly there is a complex process of stretching, wrapping and thwacking the noodles to make them thin and long. My noodles inevitably break on the first pull. So when asked how I fair in the kitchen I explain my noodle pulling frustration and then with a light Scarlet O’Hare shrug to my should and a chuckle in my voice I say “I end up just giving up and making saomian instead” . (Saomian has all the same ingredients as laghmen, but it is just refried with small square noodles). The older Uyghur ladies laugh at my light hearted joke, but behind their eyes I see a sadness reflecting displeasure at my incompetence.
The real reason behind my singleness is finally out, if only I could learn to give the noodles a good thwacking I might have a chance of getting married.