Sama Uyghur Cuisine (Union City, CA) – I’ve had halal Chinese food before, but I’d always hear people talking about Muslim Chinese food, as if it was something that was very specific. As I got older, I learned more about the Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic minority group in China, who are predominantly Muslim. I always knew there was a region in the country that had a Muslim community, but I had no idea it was its own ethnic group and it’s own influences from other cultures that make it unique. Unfortunately, this is also the ethnic group that’s facing persecution in China, which you may have seen on the news.
A food blogger friend and I set some time to catch up, and I had had Sama Uyghur bookmarked on my Instagram for months, so we decided to check it out. I think I had it bookmarked since the day I saw it featured in the SF Chronicle (and later featured on Eater, too!), which soon after they opened. It was both of our first times trying this specific cuisine, so we were excited!
We met up pretty early on a Tuesday, since I get up pretty early to go to work, so we were the first ones in the restaurant. It’s bigger than I thought, considering it’s in a strip mall with so many other shops. I also really like the decorations, since it gives you a glimpse into their culture. It does remind me a lot of Turkish and Afghan culture, like the row of hats at the register and some of the instruments hung on the walls.
The Samza, which are oven baked hot pockets with flavored beef and onion stuffing, come with two pieces in each order. When I bit into it, it felt like a a dumpling but the filling was similar to a South Asian samosa. The spices in the meat filling reminded of of Mantoo, which are Afghan dumplings, it was a really interesting appetizer! I’d definitely get it again – I love dumpling/pocket type of dishes.
This is the the dish to get if you come to Sama Uyghur, especially judging by the Yelp reviews. And they were right! The Ziq kawap are shish kebab skewers with Sama’s special spices, and you can choose lamb or chicken skewers. I felt like lamb would be the better option, and I don’t eat lamb too often, and was not disappointed! It was really tender, and had so much flavor with their spice rub. It was the best of all these Middle Eastern spices together but it was a unique take on it, since it wasn’t exactly like something I’d tasted before. I ordered these again when I got an order to go – so worth it.
My friend wasn’t feeling too great, so she ordered the hot and sour soup. It’s a decent soup with meat, noodles, and a nice helping of cilantro (I love cilantro), but I felt like it was something you could order at any restaurant. It wasn’t a unique dish or an interesting combination of flavors. I’d probably pass on this next time, unless I really wanted some soup.
Since we didn’t get rice, I felt like we needed something to complement the appetizers and meat we had. I chose the stir fried noodles with veggie and lamb or beef. This reminded me of chow mien, but the noodles are thicker and the meat (I chose beef this time), had those same flavor-packed spices the skewers had.
Overall, it was a great time getting to try something new. A lot of the dishes reminded me of Middle Eastern and specifically Afghan cuisine. Among some of their other unique dishes you can order are a whole lamb kabab! It’s ~$400 and you need to pre-order 24 hours in advance. Sama also has a Uyghur version of pulao (which is a rice dish cooked in stock or broth, similar to a pilaf), called Polo, which I ordered on my second visit when I ordered take out. It reminded me of Qabili Pulao, an Afghan staple. The Polo has rice with carrots, onion and raisins, topped with a lamb shank.
I’ve actually never been a huge fan of the Afghan one (mostly because of the raisins), but I loved Sama Uyghur’s polo. The rice was so soft and it had all of these sweet flavors from the raisins and carrots, which was mixed in with the flavors from the lamb and the broth. It was SO good! I wish I had a good picture of it, but I had ate most of the dish before I remembered to take a picture.
Definitely check out Sama Uyghur if you’re in the area, or make the trek over to Union City. The service is friendly, the food is delicious, and there’s plenty of space to bring a group of friends or family!