Goat’s Head Soup

August 12, 2015 — Kashgar, Xinjiang Province

As darkness fell, the night market ignited.

Backlit by the multicolored neon trim of nearby buildings, the square across from the mosque sparked into action. Grills were pulled from alleyways. Vats of entrails were put to a boil. Noodles were pulled long. Legs and livers were skewered. Potatoes were sauteed. Fruits were arranged. Breads were baked. People came.

Kashgar's Night Market

Kashgar’s night market.

We came for the goat’s head soup.

The smoke from multitude of grills choked the night as we walked out of the tunnel underneath the street separating the market from Id Kah, finally managing to dodge the Hungarian guy who’d wanted nothing more than to hang out with us and make sexist jokes.

Music bumped from the restaurants around the square as every cart vendor vied for attention and people crowded onto stools to eat. We stopped here and there for noodles, dumplings, or skewers.

Twice someone tried to pickpocket Dave. He spun on the second one, slapping his hand away. The middle aged man shouted at Dave in Uyghur, slapping the bottom of his shoe and acting offended as he blended back into the crowd. A woman grabbed Dave’s attention and made hand motions, trying to explain to him what had happened and suggest we be careful.

We all checked our pockets and shifted some stuff around. Then we found the goat heads.

Boiled goat heads. Stripped of their fur, left with just the meat clinging to the skull, the brain and eyeballs still encased. Matt had been drooling over the prospect since Beijing. He ordered one from the kid at the stall.

Goat Heads

The goat heads are ready to go into the soup.

The kid grabbed a head with a pair of tongs and dropped it into the boiling broth. After a few moments of waiting, he ladled it back out onto a plate and handed Matt at pair of chopsticks.

He dug in, yanking the sagging skin from the skull and stretching it toward his mouth. Next, he shoveled a lump of white, cottage cheese-like brain out of the anterior.

“It’s not bad, man,” he said and handed the chopsticks to me.

I dug out a pea-sized lump and placed it on my tongue.

The congealed blob split apart as I chewed. I can’t recall the taste, except that it tasted like nothing and also awful at all once. I forced myself to swallow the chewy, slimy bit, gagging all the way, and rushed for something to drink.

Matt laughed, then went for the eye. He wrenched it out of the socket, skin and nerves hanging on, and popped it into his mouth. The smirk faded with each chomp. He wretched and wretched again, forcing the whole twisted chunk down his throat.

“That was pretty bad.”




The West

August 12, 2015 — Kashgar, Xinjiang Province

I kept myself from saying it: Toto, we’re not in China anymore.

Or were we?

Over some 5,000 kilometers we’d ridden the rails – and sometimes the broken roads – traversing the expanse of China, from the eastern capital to western edge.

Kashgar. The westernmost city in China.

In China? I wouldn’t have guessed.

The call to prayer drifted through the tree branches and over the minarets of the Id Kah Mosque and across the balcony of our hostel. No loudspeakers; only the voices of the faithful.

The warbles drifted over the mosque walls and wafted across the square, slipping past the camels, horses, and bread vendors. They danced amid the head scarfs and floral-patterned sleeves of  the Uyghur women and the black-and-green hats and drab sport coats of the Uyghur men and past their cropped and gently pointed beards.

And those eyes.

The cries slipped through the twisted desert-sand alleys where smithies and blanket makers and wood carvers and watermelon vendors scrape and grind and stuff and sort and shout. They wended around the shirtless boys who wrestled against the sandy reconstructed city walls scratched white with Uyghur script and blew through black hair of girls who threw dirt at each other and squealed underneath the painted murals and oxidizing crescent moons and the squalor of the ongoing tear-down of the old city.

On the outskirts, the notes bounced through the 2000-year-old Grand Bazaar from dog skin to wolfskin, from carpet to headscarf, from spice bin to tea bunch, from musical instrument to dope-smoking implement, off of roasting legs of lamb and then melted into the vats of iced and fermented milk at the intersections.

The west. We’d made it.