The Xinjiang region of China goes relatively unnoticed for its distinct cuisine, though it has certainly garnered international attention in other respects.

Xinjiang, China's westernmost province, is home to some 11 million Uighur Muslims. The province butts up against the borders of multiple countries, including Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Over the past two years, its substantial Uighur population has been subject to an unprecedented crackdown, drawing a sharp rebuke from the United Nations Human Rights Council in November 2018. By the U.N. panel's own account, in the name of combating religious extremism and separatist sentiment, China's central government has detained up to 1 million Uighurs in "re-education centers."

Uighur cuisine had long been popular outside of Xinjiang in China's coastal cities. "There is a Mandarin expression that 'Uighur food is food heaven,'" says Sirajidin Kerim, owner of restaurant SilkRoad Tarim, located right next to the glitzy Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel in Shinjuku Ward. "There used to be long queues outside Uighur restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing before the crackdown began two years ago," he says.