2024-07-22 1:16 PM

New Uyghur Restaurant Moving Into Orso Space

THE SITE OF the recently closed Pizzeria Orso on S. Maple St. will be the site of the new Dolan Uyghur restaurant set to open later this summer. (News-Press photo)

It was a sudden, unhappy development for Falls Church when the popular Pizzeria Orso restaurant on S. Maple announced it was shutting down almost immediately this spring. Now, that shocking news has been met with a much happier report, and this concerns a new restaurant that will be occupying the space by the end of the summer.

This latest announcement came on a weekend in Falls Church when its racial and ethnic diversity were on full display, including with a day of Vietnamese-American activities open to the public in Cherry Hill Park, bringing the Eden Center, as it were, to downtown Falls Church for a day, and with the formal unveiling of a brilliant new mural on S. Washington St. marking the newly designated Tinner Hill Historic District, home to the first rural chapter of the NAACP. Juneteenth holiday events yesterday also marked the special week in the Little City.

The Dolan Uyghur will not be just any restaurant. It is a third location in this region that will be opening with the same name, and that means something special for the Little City. For Hamid Kerim, the owner, it will mark another important step in his unfolding restaurant empire here that foresees more locations in the wider area where he already has restaurants on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest D.C. and in Chantilly to the west.

This surely stands to be Falls Church’s gain, and in a major way. With apologies that it might sound facetious, it will represent a way for residents here to join the fight for democracy and freedom against the tyranny of autocracy and repression merely by dining.

That’s because Kerim is himself a refugee from the ongoing fierce crackdown by the Chinese communist government of over a million Uyghurs living in the far western territories of China, and he has two brothers and a sister-in-law in jail there now.

It is not entirely clear why the Chinese government is carrying out the “ethnic cleansing” there, and it is still very underreported to the wider world. Some theories hold that the repression is linked to Chinese plans to build a highway between Chinese population centers in the east, and Central Asia and Europe through a new “Silk Road” initiative, and that holding the Uyghurs in check is part of a plan for opening that area up for that kind of development.

China’s “Silk Road” or “Belt and Road” initiative is one of President Xi’s most ambitious foreign and economic policies. It aims to strengthen Beijing’s economic leadership through a vast program of infrastructure building throughout China’s neighboring regions.

Uyghurs are of Turkic ethnicity, living primarily in northwestern China, in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where they have been subject to a government crackdown since 2017. There are estimated to be about 11.8 million of them living in western China, having migrated to that region over a thousand years ago. A small number of Uyghurs also live in the Central Asian republics and an even smaller group of about 10,000 are in the U.S., centered in Fairfax County.

The Uyghurs as a group originate from and are culturally affiliated with the general region of Central and East Asia. The Uyghurs are recognized as the titular nationality of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China.

After the collapse of the Uyghur Khaganate in AD 840, ancient Uyghurs resettled from Mongolia to the Tarim Basin and northern parts of China. They became civil servants administering the Mongol Empire.

The word, Dolan, in the name of the restaurant is the name of an ancient tribe of Uyghur people who lived in the Taklamakan Desert. While there are modern Dolan people, the term “Dolan” primarily refers to an earlier Uyghur culture and civilization in the region.

The cuisine is, stated generally, a blend of Central Asian and more traditionally Chinese preparations with lots of lentils, noodles, fried rice, chicken and lamb prepared as soups, stews and kabobs.

The new restaurant here will add to the remarkable diversity of outstanding dining options that have opened up in the Little City in just the last couple of years. While the Eden Center’s choice of mostly Vietnamese cuisine locations have remained unique and uniformly outstanding, new or relatively new Italian locations like Sfizi and Thompson’s Italian mean that losing Pizzeria Orso could be accommodated, while truly outstanding nationally acclaimed places like Ellie Bird and Nue are already drawing business from throughout the wider region and the Dolan Uyghur will soon join that roster.

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