As a child, Almira had mixed feelings about her parents’ dedication to the restaurant business. She couldn’t help but notice how their demanding schedules kept them away from her, which made her determined to pursue a different life path. However, her deep-rooted passion for food and nostalgic cravings for the flavors of her upbringing ultimately drew her towards working in a restaurant, despite her earlier resolve.
Now, years later, Almira and her sister Kalbi have founded Mrs Khan Uyghur Cuisine, a unique restaurant in Silicon Valley, California. Their menu offers a rare selection of Uyghur specialties, including hand-pulled laghman noodles and crispy gosh naan pastry.
Kalbi, the older sister, came to the U.S. for college in 2010 and hasn’t returned to Turkestan since, except for a visit in 2011. Almira, the younger sister, arrived in the U.S. in 2015 and experienced a culture shock. They settled in Sacramento, where Kalbi ran a limousine business. During a visit to friends in Menlo Park, Almira would gaze through the windows of the former restaurant, Juban Yakiniku, and dream of opening a stunning Uyghur restaurant in that location.
According to Almira, “The sad part is that my family doesn’t know I’m opening a restaurant.” This revelation highlights the challenging situation faced by the sisters and others from their region. Staying in contact with relatives back home puts their families at risk and may subject them to demands for personal information from the Chinese government. Kalbi further explains that their parents’ passports have been confiscated, and they are currently unable to communicate with them.
“All of us are living here like orphans, to be honest,” Kalbi said to paloaltoonline.com.
“My people — we love to eat our food, but not everybody knows how to cook,” Almira said. “I want people to have a place they can … go out and talk with friends, talk, sit for a long time (and) have something hot.”
The menu includes as its starters a vermicelli salad, Uyghur salad and gosh naan, a meat and bread dish.
The main courses include a Uyghur chicken korma option; laghman, a meat, vegetable and pulled noodle dish; spicy rice noodles; spicy rice cake; polov, a rice pilaf in the Uyghur style; and stir-fry beef noodles.
The sisters note that because they are Muslim, they do not serve alcohol or pork. To accompany the meals are an assortment of sodas, plus pots of green mint tea, fruit tea or Uyghur milk tea.
And for dessert, the restaurant offers strawberry and Nutella cheesecake, each served with chocolate, vanilla or green tea ice cream.