Yining has some great ethnic culinary specialties:Milk tea,Uigur rice,Fen Soup,Baozi buns,"Grabbed meat" over noodles.
Other Xinjiang specialties such as pulled noodles and mutton kebabs can also be found in Yining.
For any of the above specialites, try the night market near the Ili Hotel or the Covered Food Market next to Yining's Bazaar south of Youth Park (Qingnian Gongyuan).
While tea with milk is a fairly common thing in Yiling, for the foreign visitor, some ways to prepare this drink may seem rich. For instance, the milk can be cow's or goat's, and some types of milk tea are actually milk with cream or butter added.
We call this dish "Uigur Rice", but it's name in Chinese is Zhuafan. In English, this actually means "grabbed rice" for the fact that you can eat it with your hands. The main ingredients are rice cooked in mutton broth with spring onion, carrot, and a piece of mutton (or beef, chicken, duck meat instead) placed on top of the rice. Sometimes, raisins or almonds are also added for a little extra flavor. This dish is actually quite rich, but this gives it an undeniably delicious flavor. This rice will not only fill you up, but also give you lots of energy!!
Fen, the Chinese word for "flour", here refers to a kind of pasta made with bean flour. The pasta is clear (similar to gelatin) and can come in different forms: si, threads like vermicelli; pi, literally "skin" this is reminiscent of the shape of broad egg noodles; and kuai, literally "chunks".
Yining Fen Soup (Fentang) is made by first boiling mutton and/or beef along with spring onion, salt, pepper, soy sauce, vinegar and other seasonings over a high flame. Then the flame is lowered somewhat to let the meat stew until it's tender. Then, chunks (fenkuai) of fen are added along with cabbage, spinach, and mushrooms.
Baozi are meat buns made with a meat filling and a dough wrapper. The most common type of Yining Baozi are known as cripsy skin. As Yining is a largely Muslim area, the stuffing is typically mutton or beef seasoned with spring onion, salt and pepper. This type of baozi are golden brown and as the flour used is different than other types of baozi, when cooked they tend to be flatter than typical Chinese types of baozi.
Naren is a dish that is basically unique to the Kazakh peoples. The word Naren literally means "grabbed meat". This dish is prepared by boiling a whole lamb, including the head. Salt and other seasonings are also added to the broth. When the meat is fully cooked, it is removed, set aside, and noodles are boiled in the broth. Then the noodles are served on a communal platter with pieces of mutton on top. The host mixes the noodles together with the meat and everyone at the meal digs in!