True Street Meat: Xinjiang Barbecue in Flushing

Xinjiang Barbecue: a common street food from an uncommon region of China fits right at home in Flushing, Queens.

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Traditional Xinjiang Barbecue is the original and most popular of five Xinjiang BBQ carts in Flushing. The location on the corner of 41st and Kissena is prime too. Protip: within 100 feet: $40 RX eyeglass lenses, massive library, Kung Fu bubble tea, last remaining Irish pub.

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Don’t be scared. All those who operate these BBQ carts in the area wear those spooky nameless-killer-from-late ’80s-Japanese-low-budget-torture-film doctor masks. What do you want from them? They’re standing over charcoal all day. Real charcoal.

Unlike a typical food cart griddle, which would sear everything into a single compressed layer, the hardwood charcoal doesn’t come in direct contact with the meat, so it’s slower cooking. The smoke brings the juices out and some drips onto the coals creating a second smoke specific to the meat, which really seals over the spice mix (which we’ll talk about in a moment) without really forcing it. 

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Choose your meat. We wouldn’t go with the lamb kidney though. We’ve got nothing against organ meats. Doesn’t matter who cooks it, it seems to turn dry before it cooks through. Literally, it has the mouthfeel of over boiled hard boiled egg yolks except instead of egg, it has a stale liver taste. Never had good kidney ever.

Those prices. Don’t be cheap, spend more than one buck. I chose 2x lamb and 1x squid.

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You may be impatient, thinking why is this taking so long even for a single skewer of meat? It’s fresh. Meats charred to order. Rotating the kebabs and fanning by hand to stoke the heat. In the middle of cooking, depending on who is working, they’ll ask you something in Chinese or just hold up a pinch of spice. Just say yes.

While you wait, let us give you some backstory. Xinjiang is an autonomous region in China that borders India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Russia to name a few. It is populated in majority by the Uyghurs, a people of Turk descent who had emigrated long since to Central Asia. It is also predominantly Muslim, so you’re going to get a lot of fragrant, deep savory flavors from ingredients rarely eaten in other parts of China. Lamb being the most blaring example as well as the use of cumin, which is in the spice mix you will be saying yes to along with salt, chili powder and red pepper flakes.

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The lamb is really tender and juicy. On our way to loiter on the steps of the LIRR entrance, it started dripping out the opening of the foil. We heard the trick the Uyghurs use for making a good kebab is to go with quality over quantity and put a little fat in between each piece. It is true here and it’s the flavorful, edible melty kind of fat. It’s got such an addicting flavor. The squid has that subtle sweetness that makes up for its lack of savory.

 china, Chinatown, culture, Flushing, queens, Xinjiang

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