Making hand-pulled noodles in the Uyghur tradition is a labor-intensive process, and finicky to boot. Adilan Aziz had never made them herself before she got married in 2006. That’s when her mom finally started teaching her how to make the dish—and it took years to perfect. The noodles are now a staple at her Plano restaurant, Turan Uyghur Kitchen. 

Nestled in a strip mall filled with East Asian businesses, the shop greets visitors with the warm, aromatic smells of cumin, white pepper, cardamom, and ginger. There you can order laghman, which features the soft, chewy noodles topped with chunks of lamb, peppers, and mushrooms in a tomato-y broth. Other signature dishes served family-style include the Korma Chop Noodles—tender beef, green onions, and peppers dry-fried in seasonings—and the Big Plate Chicken—braised chicken, potatoes, and red peppers in a spicy stew flavored with herbs and served on a bed of flat noodles.

The last dish is more of a mix of Uyghur and Chinese cuisines, Aziz says. The two cultures are entwined, which has led to the delicious dishes served at Turan. But the relationship between them also underpins an ongoing human rights crisis.

Uyghurs trace their roots back to Central Asian Turkic cultures, with their ancestral homeland, Turan, encompassing a cluster of countries between the Caspian Sea and China’s northwest border.

In the Xinjiang province of China, the estimated 12 million Uyghurs who live there are an ethnic, religious, and cultural minority. The majority of Uyghurs living in China are Muslim, and that community has faced decades of political and religious oppression through state surveillance and imprisonment, among other repressive tactics. Though the exact number is unknown, tens of thousands of Uyghurs have fled China to escape persecution for several decades.

“This is a good way to spread our culture with food,” Aziz says of her restaurant. (She’s careful about what she says publicly, even while living thousands of miles away.) 

At the same time, it might be an opportunity to raise awareness about the human rights crisis facing Uyghurs in China. It often seems like the slow-burn dilemma hasn’t managed to capture the attention of politicians in the U.S. or the general population. But gathering around the dinner table can be a way to learn and engage in bigger conversations.

“Dallas has such a big Muslim community, but there was no Uyghur food here,” Aziz says. For her family, serving these dishes is a way to hold on to its homeland. “We have such a rich food culture, and we’re very proud of that,” she continues.

All the meat the restaurant serves is halal, meaning it’s butchered in accordance with Islamic rules. The flavors are uniquely delicious, but the closest cousin could be Indo-Chinese fusion, which is spicier, heartier, and more delicately layered than the American Chinese food most people might be familiar with. 

A friend of mine, who spent part of her childhood in Nanjing, China, told me that the food transported her back to the Uyghur restaurants her family dined at there. “The lamb kabob smells like it’s straight off the street where they’d be grilling the meat in the evening at a restaurant called Aladdin,” she said. As her memories started flooding back in, our waiter excitedly answered her questions about the other Uyghur dishes she remembered, like corn fritters and currylike stews.

Turan opened in late April, just after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. Aziz says the family is still getting the hang of the restaurant business, so, for now, Turan is still in its soft-open phase, which means a limited menu with about five main dishes and a handful of appetizers, like samsa, a savory puff pastry filled with ground beef. The only cooks in the kitchen right now are Aziz; her husband, Alimjan; her sister-in-law; and her brother-in-law; and they don’t want to sacrifice quality for speedy service. 

That means the hand-pulled noodles can be a bit of a wait, particularly on a busy night. But the process of crafting them is fascinating.

“We start with a ratio of salt, flour, and water,” Aziz says. And because this recipe—like most served at the restaurant—has been passed down orally from grandmas to moms to daughters, there are no measuring cups or spoons involved. 

The dough is kneaded until it’s the right texture; then it has to rest before it’s cut into pieces, rolled, and pulled into long, puffy, ropelike lengths. Then the noodles are boiled for just a few minutes, until they are perfectly soft and chewy, and rinsed with cold water. Finally a stew is ladled on top.

“We start [making] the dough in the morning,” Aziz says. “Whenever people order the dish, we start pulling,” she says. “It has to be on time—if you pull it before and freeze it or let it cook, it’s not yummy at all. It has to be made freshly.” 

It took about thirty minutes for the laghman to arrive at our table, but we wiped the plate clean in a fraction of the time, slurping noodles and chunks of lamb in reverent silence. 

The longer wait time between dishes might help make room for dessert. Turan serves a slightly tart, homemade whipped yogurt with seasonal fruits and nuts. There’s also a delicately sweet honey cake, which has layers of caramel-like filling between thin sheets of sponge cake.

Turan Uyghur Kitchen joins a long and always-growing list of establishments in this part of Dallas that represent cultures across the globe. While larger and more established Uyghur diasporic communities are based in cities like Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, Aziz and her family—who moved from Maryland in 2021—are happy to make a new home here, introducing many customers to their cuisine and culture.

Brushing up on the historical and political situation in Xinjiang isn’t a prerequisite to visiting the restaurant, of course, but walking in with some awareness of what it took for this particular cuisine to exist in Dallas might make the meal a more nuanced experience. 

“We don’t expect anything from people, except their dua [prayers],” Aziz says. And, of course, that you enjoy the hand-pulled noodles her family makes.