By Asher Kohn
Anchor Steam in San Francisco
Do the old Italian men eating popcorn know what they're missing at Chug Pub? Almost certainly. They brought in popcorn and have been coming here since they had black hair and broad shoulders. They were eating popcorn when this bar was famous for its multi-gallon "Chug Tower." They will eat popcorn now that it has become San Francisco's premier destination for Uyghur food. For the old men, all trends come and go. Unlike most San Franciscans, they remember back when bars like this weren't covered in Golden State Warriors kitsch.
This Uyghur food, though, is something special. Like all good bar food, it begins with grease. Three dudes from Urumqi, in China's far northwest, have rented out Chug Pub's kitchen in the city's perma-cloudy Sunset neighborhood and named it Uyghur Taamirli. To call it "unassuming" would be making an assumption. This is the sort of place with a hastily-walled-off smoking room, halogen lights, and old Italians eating popcorn. Men repair inscrutable machinery at the bar or on the sidewalk outside.
Central Asian cuisine is tough to find in the U.S., especially lowbrow greasy goodness. Uyghur culture is usually mediated through politics, since there have been violent spats between the northwestern Muslim community and their Beijing rulers for the past several decades. These political rifts are probably irrelevant to the popcorn-eaters but are visible on the menu, written in Latin letters and Chinese script. Uyghur's Arabic-inflected lettering is left off. There probably aren't too many Uyghur-readers who would find themselves surrounded by cheap beer and bigscreen TVs at Chug Pub.
Get a waiter's attention and he'll rise up from the video shuffleboard machine to take your order. It won't take long because it all kind of runs together. Laghman: noodles with peppers, garlic, and lamb. Samsa: baked pockets of peppers, garlic, and lamb. Göşnan: fried pastries with...peppers, garlic, and lamb. The göşnan is delicious and literal. Göş (meat) + nan (bread). Have it with beer that's only $3 and is probably the city's own Anchor Steam.
This food won't be here for long. The kitchen lease runs out at the end of December, and the Uyghur Taamirli trio are looking to get their own place in 2016. They will move on, and probably look back at their Chug Pub days laughing and reminiscing.
The göşnan-loving crowd will have to look elsewhere for their greasy beer nights. No good thing can last, not in San Francisco in the year 2015. This moment of fatty lamb, cheap beer, and utterly insipid conversation will pass. Decades from now, Uyghur Taamirli's fans will be greying, eating popcorn, and talking about how great this city used to be. They wouldn't be wrong, but the young men across the bar will be trying hard not to roll their eyes at the moment on which they're missing out.