Karlaylisi, Footscray

Where: Karlaylisi, 4/203 Ballarat Road Footscray

What: A masterclass in Uyghur food

Who: Proud Perthian, Ox Tongue Soul Sister

Bloat score: 1 – Had to loosen my belt a notch

On a perfect summer’s day earlier this year after making a pact with myself to go to the beach more, I visited Half Moon Bay for the first time with Proud Perthian and Ox Tongue Soul Sister. We toyed with the idea of getting the bay’s famed fish and chips, but decided instead that we’d rather drive back to Footscray for Uyghur food – our beach babe personas had limits!!

I’d never tried Karlaylisi but had heard a lot about it, particularly after this Broadsheet piece on it. The menu was extensive and there were so many things we wanted to try. Gosh nan – pan-fried handmade pastry filled with finely chopped lamb and onion. Baranga xika kiyam kormisi – stir-fried honey potatoes. Gosh polo – braised rice cooked with carrots, onion and lamb. Kumul yapmisi – lamb casserole in a steamed wrap. (As you can tell, Uyghur food is heavy on the lamb because pork – widely used across other regional Chinese cuisines – is not halal and therefore not eaten by Uyghur people, who are mostly Muslim.)

In the end, we chose one noodle dish (had to try those handmade noodles), two vegetarian dishes, lamb skewers (absolutely can’t go past lamb skewers whenever they appear on the menus of regional Chinese restaurants) and a plate of dumplings.

Owing to Ox Tongue Soul Sister’s intolerance of spice, we steered clear of any noodles with chilli symbols besides them and chose the uzup tashligan hemir kormisi ($15) – stir-fried handmade noodles with lamb and vegetables. Less wide-cut than biang biang noodles – the Shaanxi speciality that’s taking Melbourne by storm – and delightfully slippery and chewy, these noodles had a superb bite to them and were somehow both sweet (from the tomato paste evidently used) and savoury (from Chinese black vinegar).

The most popular hand-pulled Uyghur noodles are laghmen – also spelled as lagman, laghman or leghmen – and popular in parts of Central Asia like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan as well as Russia, owing to the fact that many of these countries used to belong to the Soviet Union. Because Uyghurs live in the Xinjiang region of Northwest China, en route the Silk Road, laghmen travelled far and wide. The hand-pulled, stretched long, thin noodles are generally served with fried lamb and fried seasonal vegetables like capsicum, potatoes, green beans and carrots.

One of the main differences between Uyghur hand-pulled noodles and Chinese ones is the fact that in the former, vegetable oil is used to keep the noodles from sticking to one another, while in the latter, flour is used. The dough is rolled into a spiral, oiled, allowed to rest for a minimum of four hours, and then twisted and pulled into shape by simultaneously being hit on the table and gently stretched. The striking beauty of handmade Uyghur noodles is that they’re often irregular in length and thickness.

As with any regional Chinese preparation of thinly sliced potatoes, the quqimal barangay kormisi ($14) – shredded potato salad – was superb. These light, tangy and piquant stir-fried potato strips – boiled until cooked through but still crisp, rinsed with cold water to remove any starchiness, stir-fried in garlic and chilli and then dressed with vinegar – bore resemblance to Dongbei’s tudou si and were almost al dente in how they resembled chewy and firm pasta. These were slightly oilier than I’m used to, but not in an unsavoury way. Potatoes are a popular crop in China but unlike other parts of the world, they aren’t deep-fried or roasted until golden brown and function more as a light vegetable side dish than a main starchy element.

The aqik chuqik porchak uyotma kormisi ($15) – stir-fried spicy tofu – proved slightly too heat-filled for Ox Tongue Soul Sister and while Proud Perthian and I enjoyed it heaped on steamed rice, its tomatoey base was too similar to our noodles, resulting in a slightly homogenous meal. That was all our fault, however – we know better now for next time.

Manti is a type of Uyghur dumpling where a thin sheet of dough consisting of either beef or lamb spiced with black pepper and accompanied by vegetables like pumpkin is steamed and topped with butter, sour cream, onion sauce or a garlic sauce. Karlaylisi had two manti on their menu and in hindsight, this would’ve been the more interesting choice but because they both came with lamb – a meat present in two other dishes we ordered – we decided to get the kazan tugrasi ($15), a take on the Chinese jiaozi.  The crisp, lacy lattice on these handmade pan-fried beef mince dumplings were a highlight – ‘kazan’ means pot in Uyghur, hence the potsticker dumplings – and the beef within was moist and well-spiced.

The cumin-flecked, spicy zik kawap ($3 each) charcoal-grilled lamb skewers were moreish and pleasantly fatty. Would order again.

I loved my visit to Karlaylisi and would order a spicy noodle next time, watch out for any tomatoey repetitions – tomatoes are a central ingredient in many Uyghur sauces – and order the manti or gosh nan to sample Uyghurs’ unique take on dumplings and pastries. Despite the presence of wheat and undoubtedly a lot of onion and garlic, my tummy behaved at a mere one bloat.

Karlaylisi is open Tuesday to Sunday from 12pm to 10pm.

Author: Sonia Nair

Sonia Nair is a Melbourne-based food writer who persists with her love of everything deep fried and spicy, despite being diagnosed with a histamine intolerance and lactose intolerance after incorrectly thinking she was fructose-intolerant for several years.

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