"Taiwanese people understand food purely in terms of pleasure," he said. "But my friends tell me that in China food is still attached to survival or status--it is used to intimidate, it is eaten to impress. It is sometimes not what it seems. But people here simply seem to enjoy it."

"And when I talk about China," he said without irony, "my conversations will usually start with 'My friends tell me,' because I haven't been there myself for so long."

On the twentieth anniversary of Tien'anmen, Kaixi attempted to return to China, to clear his name in court. He was turned away in Macao, and sent back to Taiwan. The government will not issue his parents visas to leave the country, so they have not met since 1989. "I miss my mother's food--I miss the Uighur style of cooking. You can get everything in Taipei, but you can't really get that."

On my last night with Kaixi, he took me to a local Xinjiang restaurant near his home. It was modern and minimalist--far different than the restaurants draped in green and gold embroidery across China, where plucky Central Asian music screams from tired speakers. Sometimes, in restaurants like those, the diners even dance.

But in this restaurant, tucked down in alleyway in chic East Taipei, only a few photos of men with skullcaps selling grapes signaled the restaurant's ethnic intent. That, and the heavy scent of cumin in the air. "The Uighurs were once a strong people, a rich people," he explained, as a waiter brought plates of fatty lamb and beef pierced through with skewers. "We were traders to the Mongols, we were powerful and independent people."

I asked him about the recent riots and he paused, with patient distance. "I do not know what happened there. I cannot reach my friends in Xinjiang, and you can't really trust what people on either side say. Hatred gets in the way of truth. But one thing that does upset me is how desensitized the world is to the absurdities of China's domestic policy. There are things you should get used to, and there are things one should never accept."

Kaixi's enthusiasm for food is also boundless. Over three days, we bantered about Chinese vinegars, Parisian bistros, Islay whiskys, and soup noodles. In his world, politics and food intertwine. "Those who love food love life, and part of loving life is being free. When I left China in 1989 and I resettled in Paris, a Taiwanese journalist took me to the Lido de Paris cabaret, and it was totally exhilarating. I thought that that was what we were fighting for in Beijing--for a beautiful life, and the freedom to choose that creates that beauty."

Then he took the kebabs and arranged them on the grill. We poured glasses of Yili Lao Jiao (Yili's Old Cellar), a strong, white spirit produced in the Xinjiang town where his parents grew up.

As the lamb started to spit and sizzle, surrendering its fat to the flames, Kaixi took a bundle of five kebabs in each hand and smacked them on top of each other, like a dealer cuts a deck of cards. Then he dusted them with salt, cumin and chili, and shuffled the meat once more. His technique was the same as any street vendor with a narrow charcoal grill in Kashgar, Xian or Beijing.

We ate the lamb kebabs, with crisp fat and chewy meat, and chased them with a shot of fiery liquor. "This is as close as I can get," he said, and spread a few more skewers over the smoldering coals.

Recipe: Kaixi's Hearty Nomad Soup

PAGES : 1 2

slide_1_cut.jpg

Photo by Jarrett Wrisley


A delicious soup of sweet and crisp mountain bamboo, offset by salty jinhua ham.


Jarrett Wrisley joins a man who's


In Taiwan, Dining in Exile


and explores how food can provide a taste of home.


slide_2_cut.jpg

Photo by Jarrett Wrisley

A plate of eel with shredded, pickled ginger that was braised in sweet soy and then deep fried till it crunched like a cracker.

Jarrett Wrisley joins a man who's


In Taiwan, Dining in Exile


and explores how food can provide a taste of home.


slide_3_cut.jpg

Photo by Jarrett Wrisley

First, a light bowl of rice noodles, in a stock made of pork and pig intestine.

Jarrett Wrisley joins a man who's


In Taiwan, Dining in Exile


and explores how food can provide a taste of home.

slide_4_cut.jpg

Photo by Jarrett Wrisley


Then, a pile of moist tofu and tender chitterlings with a spoonful of chili sauce, green onions, and fresh ginger. It was a delicate, balanced, brilliant dish.


Jarrett Wrisley joins a man who's


In Taiwan, Dining in Exile


and explores how food can provide a taste of home.

slide_5_cut.jpg

Photo by Jarrett Wrisley


It looked like Asian hamburger.


Jarrett Wrisley joins a man who's


In Taiwan, Dining in Exile


and explores how food can provide a taste of home.


slide_6_cut.jpg

Photo by Jarrett Wrisley

Our conversation returned to China, because China was all around us: in delicate wontons from Sichuan; thick-skinned dumplings from Shandong; chestnut-colored duck from Guangdong.

Jarrett Wrisley joins a man who's


In Taiwan, Dining in Exile


and explores how food can provide a taste of home.

slide_7_cut.jpg

Photo by Jarrett Wrisley


Taiwanese people understand food purely in terms of pleasure.


Jarrett Wrisley joins a man who's


In Taiwan, Dining in Exile


and explores how food can provide a taste of home.


slide_8_cut.jpg

Photo by Jarrett Wrisley

On my last night with Kaixi, he took me to a local Xinjiang restaurant near his home.

Jarrett Wrisley joins a man who's


In Taiwan, Dining in Exile


and explores how food can provide a taste of home.

slide_9_cut.jpg

Photo by Jarrett Wrisley

He dusted them with salt, cumin, and chili, and shuffled them once more.

Jarrett Wrisley joins a man who's


In Taiwan, Dining in Exile


and explores how food can provide a taste of home.


slide_10_cut.jpg

Photo by Jarrett Wrisley

Yili Lao Jiao (Yili's Old Cellar), a strong, white spirit produced in the Xinjiang town where his parents grew up.

Jarrett Wrisley joins a man who's


In Taiwan, Dining in Exile


and explores how food can provide a taste of home.

slide_11_cut.jpg

Photo by Jarrett Wrisley


Those who love food love life, and part of loving life is being free. Learn more here .


Jarrett Wrisley joins a man who's


In Taiwan, Dining in Exile


and explores how food can provide a taste of home.