Restaurant News

If you’ve had Uyghur food in Adelaide, you have Momz Kitchen to thank

With more than 20 years’ experience serving laghman, polo and toho kordak across the city, co-owners Ershat and Hislat Shukur still run their restaurant with heart.

By Diem Tran
Hislat and Ershat Shukur, co-owners of Uyghur café-restaurant Momz Kitchen in Adelaide. Photo: Diem Tran
It's action stations at Momz Kitchen. Here, in the Uyghur café-restaurant tucked away on Austin Street between Adelaide's Rundle Mall and North Terrace, co-owner Ershat Shukur dances between the coffee machine and the chopping board, pouring flat whites one minute and dutifully dicing carrots the next. Regulars roll in for their coffees; more often than not they leave with an Uyghur pastry, baked by Ershat's wife Hislat. On Fridays, coffee orders come with a free kumyak, a fried doughnut Hislat remembers fondly from her childhood in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China.
Momz Kitchen (Momz meaning "in the city" in Uyghur) is a culmination of the Shukurs' 20 years of experience running cafés and restaurants in the inner-city suburbs. They lay claim to opening Adelaide's first Uyghur restaurant on Prospect Road in Kilburn back in 2000, serving laghman (hand-pulled noodles), gosh naan (a grilled meat pie) and polo (lamb pilaf).
Business at Kilburn boomed "like crazy," says Hislat. Since then, the Shukurs have opened and on-sold a string of cafés, restaurants and food court stalls to members of the Uyghur community, before settling into what they believe is their final foray in hospitality, Momz Kitchen.
Enter Momz and you'll be greeted with a counter heaving with pastries from across the sweet and savoury spectrum. On one side, a heated cabinet holds freshly baked manoush, samsa (lightly spiced, flaky lamb pies), and say pora - savoury scrolls filled with mince, or feta, spinach and mushroom.
Home-made Uyghur biscuits at Momz Kitchen: sanza, serik piranik (at back) and ak piranik (at front). Photo: Diem Tran
On the other end of the counter is a cake display piled with banana bread and brownies, as well as a variety of piranik. Hislat remembers watching her mother making the soft, crumbly crescent-shaped biscuits for Hislat and her six siblings back in Urumqi. "[She] made them using just egg, flour and water. There was no milk, no butter," she says. In Adelaide, Hislat adds flaked almonds, honey and sugar to enhance her pastries.
In the open kitchen, she hand-pulls noodles for the ever-popular laghman on the lunch menu. It's a hypnotic process – she stretches a single length of dough, forms them into long strands between her hands, raises them above her head and smacks the dough on the wooden bench, while simultaneously pulling at the noodles. She repeats this motion twice more, working the gluten in the dough so the noodles achieve their prized elasticity and toothsome texture.
Every day, Hislat hand-pulls noodles destined for the laghman, an Uyghur noodle stir-fry with lamb and vegetables. Photo: Diem Tran
Laghman noodles are considered the most popular dish back in Xinjiang, especially amongst Uyghur men who purportedly eat the dish on an almost daily basis. Served with stir-fried vegetables, lamb and a spiced stock, it's comfort and all-day sustenance on a plate.
At Momz though, it's the heat of the toho kordak (also referred to as dapanji, its Mandarin name, on the menu) that receives top billing with the younger crowd. Toho (chicken) and kordak (stew) is just that, a warming braise with flat noodles, chicken on-the-bone, potatoes and dried chilli.
Toho kordak, also know by its Mandarin name, dapanji. Photo: Diem Tran
With the morning coffee rush over, Ershat finishes chopping that pile of carrots. They're destined for the polo, a glistening, deeply comforting rice dish studded with carrots, onion and lamb. It bears similarities to pilaf, as found in many Middle Eastern cuisines. "It's considered the 'king' of food in our culture," says Ershat. "Whenever you have a party, you need to have polo."
Pora - an Uyghur take on the Turkish gözleme - and qoqura (cut dumpling soup) are also popular choices with diners; freshly made aryan, a cooling yoghurt drink served with ice and a sprinkle of salt or sugar, is offered year-round.
Business at Momz has been disrupted by construction on Austin Street, the comings and goings of neighbouring food outlets, and now the precarity of a COVID-19 world. But the Shukurs are optimistic about the return of foot traffic from the nearby university and residential buildings.
"I want to see more [Uyghur restaurants] open, more professional settings," says Hislat. Many of the establishments in Adelaide are run by home cooks but she hopes as the Uyghur community continues to grow in Australia, they also attract professionally trained chefs from Xinjiang to not just preserve their cuisine, but also take it in new directions.
Until then, she prides herself for honouring the memories of her mother, and imparting the feeling of home in her food. "I cook [Uyghur food] the way I want to make it," she says. "I tell my kids Uyghur food is delicate but full of flavour, and made by hand and by heart."
Momz Kitchen
29 Austin Street, Adelaide SA
Open: Mon–Fri 7am-4pm
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