Fun fact: More than 70 percent of the meat eaten in China is pork. And while stuffing yourself with xiaolongbao and hongshao rou is a must when eating in Shanghai, it can be nice to have a respite at halal restaurants like Miss Ali.
Yan Ali, the owner and namesake of the restaurant, arrived in Shanghai from Xinjiang – China’s predominantly Muslim province in the country’s far northwest, where she previously hosted TV shows. Ali didn’t like the way her native cuisine was often represented in Shanghai – with waiters robed in garish “costumes” and performing songs and dances from their region – and decided to create a more accurate representation of the restaurants of Xinjiang.
Think wooden tables lit by bright lanterns that wouldn’t be out of place in a Turkish bazaar and walls lined with photos of the night markets in Turpan and local minority children at play in their hometowns. The well-equipped bar serves not just Xinjiang’s famous black beer, but also Belgian brews and glasses of imported wine (the meat is halal, but the booze is not).
The focus at this halal restaurant is squarely on the lamb – but not just any old sheep will do. Baerchuke lamb is from western Xinjiang, not far from Kashgar and the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Thanks to the wild vegetables of the area that serve as much of the feed for the animals, the meat is high in protein and low in cholesterol – and that typical gamey smell that accompanies most lamb is non-existent here.
There’s a saying about this breed: “If men eat Baerchuke lamb, they will become stronger. If women eat it, they will become more beautiful.” And there’s enough of the signature lamb on the menu to test that theory.
Baerchuke lamb is best here when fried with chunks of naan, which shows up on the menu as “lamb hometown nang” (家乡馕炒肉, jiāxiāng náng chǎo ròu). And Miss Li of course has the grilled lamb skewers (羊肉串, yángròu chuàn) that come standard at any Xinjang restaurant, but these smoky chunks come threaded on skewers cut from the tamarisk trees native to the Xinjiang region.
For a gamier cut, try the specialty lamb “waist” (阿里家招牌大羊腰, ālǐ jiā zhāopái dà yáng yāo), a fattier slice of meat that includes a chunk of kidney, or the sheep entrails soup (巴尔楚克羊杂汤, bā’ěr chǔ kè yáng zá tāng).And don’t miss a bowl of lamb “ravioli” (羊肉馄饨) in a steaming bowl of lamb broth thickened with egg. The soup is so velvety it’s worth ordering even in the dog days of summer.
The menu is mostly Chinglish, but for picky eaters, there is a handy, well-translated list of ingredients in every dish. Sorry, vegetarians, those steamed pumpkin buns (南瓜包子 nánguā bāozi) are worth the 30-minute wait, but they also come stuffed with minced lamb.