Xinjiang’s ‘Big-Plate Chicken,’ (Sauteed Spicy Chicken with potatoes and onions) is well-known internationally, and stands as a symbol of Xinjiang’s food.
‘Big-Plate Chicken’ is often served to guests in the Shawan County, Tacheng Prefecture of North Xinjiang. Many versions of how this delicacy originated are popular in Xinjiang, and some stories have made it into a mysterious item. Some say that once a Sichuan resident, Mr Zhang, migrated to Shawan County and inspired by the traditional Kazakh pasta ‘Naren,’ he invented the dish ‘Big-Plate Chicken.’ Others say that it was Mr Chen from Hunan Province, who invented the cuisine at Chaiwopu of Urumqi. Some say it was developed by roadside restaurant cooks, under the instructions of long-distance lorry drivers, who were impatient and eager to fill their stomachs with something hot and “strong”. What is more, some even say that Zuo Zongtang, a commander-in-chief of the Qing Imperial army, who came to Xinjiang in 1875 to fight against the invasion of Yakub-beg from Khanate of Kokand, brought the delicious chicken delicacy of the Qin court into Ili of Xinjiang!
Regardless of these stories, ‘Big-Plate Chicken’ has now become a favoured Xinjiang delicacy. Rich in taste and diverse in style, it is described in the documentary A Bite of China, as follows.
“Cooking materials and ingredients from different regions contribute to the birth of ‘Big-Plate Chicken’: chopped chicken, green and red peppers, diced potatoes. For a Sichuan flavour, sugar is stir-fried until it turns brown, chicken added and then peppers. Gansu residents particularly like additional potatoes, while Henan Province has their own manner of cooking: frying everything prior to making the stew, creating a complete mixture of the ingredients. Fresh chicken soup and starch from the potatoes forms a delicious soup. Finally thick noodles are added, as wide as a strap, typical of the dishes of Shaanxi Province.”
After decades of changes, ‘Big-Plate Chicken’ has developed a certain reputation all over the country. In the mid-1990s, spicy chicken appeared on the table of Chaiwopu locals in Dabancheng Town, next to Urumqi of Xinjiang, attracting numerous diners. Gradually, the delicacy gained favour in North and South Tianshan Mountains as well. Now, farmers have become very particular about feeding their chickens in natural environs so that they will taste so tender and smell so fragrant, that diners could even mistake them for wild chickens.
Many more breeds have been developed: fighting chickens, Barred Rock chickens and guinea fowl. ‘Big-plate Chicken’ has evolved into a mixture of the cuisine styles of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, with examples like frozen tofu and spicy chicken with potatoes, chicken blood pancake and spicy chicken with potatoes!
With the boom in business, an industry standard of ‘Big-Plate Chicken’ has been created. In the “2014 Silk Road International Food Exhibition & Trade Fair” and “The 4th China Halal Food Culture Festival,” the Experts Committee of Urumqi Food Service Industry Association released the standard of Xinjiang characteristic cuisine: ‘Big-Plate Chicken’ should be served with belt noodle (as wide as a belt) meat and vegetables. Other standards for food included that a ‘Naan’ weighs as much as 200 grams; every piece of ‘Kebab; is approximately 10 grams and 2 cm in size, powder soup comes from stewing bovine coccygeal for 3 hours and ingredients of ‘Meatball soup’ should include bean curd, fungus and spinach.
The establishment of these standards have been recognized by the food community, which not only makes the Xinjiang food more easily known to the outside world, but also to guards it against “copying.” The standardization of ‘Big-Plate Chicken’ and ‘Naan’, provides a prerequisite for them to be known on the world stage, and also enables them to compete with fried chicken and pizza.
Xinjiang dishes always tend to be piled onto big plates, a reflection of Xinjiang locals’ bold and generous character. These dishes, which might not look delicate or exquisite, are genuine in quality and fair in price. Perhaps, only Xinjiang can make ‘Big-Plate Dishes’ popular everywhere.
Nowadays, ‘Big-plate Chicken’ has become so popular that a series of other ‘Big-plate Dishes’ have derived from it – ‘Big-plate Goose,’ ‘Big-plate Fish,’ ‘Big-plate Duck,’ ‘Big-plate Haggis,’ ‘Big-plate Ribs,’ and ‘Big-plate Spicy Sheep Hooves.’ Quickly introduced throughout Xinjiang and spread across China, these dishes represent the unique diet of Xinjiang.
Translated by Duan Taotao
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