Eating in Xi’an

23 May

A trip from Beijing to lovely hot Xi’an was the perfect way to spend a long weekend recently, and with Dan’s birthday on the Sunday, it was a good excuse to get out of town and try something new. Although I’d been to Xi’an before, Dan hadn’t, and I was eager to show him the sights…yes, there’s the Terracotta Army, the city walls and the Big Goose Pagoda. But for foodies, there was also the Muslim Quarter – a buzzing, bustling maze of streets filled with hole-in-the-wall restaurants, men cooking chuan’r, nut and dried fruit stalls, smoke, the smell of meat cooking, and women baking bread. It was a feast for all senses – taste, touch, smell, sight and sound.

One of Xi’an’s specialties includes a cold noodle dish, liang pi, served with sesame sauce, chilli oil, vinegar and a few greens. The liang pi noodles are slippery and soak up the taste of the sauces, with a saucy soup left in the bottom. They can be found at almost every second stall.

The chuan’r here is to die for. We ate lamb and beef, and were not disappointed by either. A chuan’r is basically a skewer of meat, including some fat, seasoned with cumin and chili and roasted over hot coals (sometimes with a man with hairdryer also – but I’ve only seen that in Beijing!). The result is delicious, tender and flavoursome barbecue meat, and it was perfect sitting on balmy nights, drinking cold beer (not in the Muslim quarter though) and munching on chuan’r sticks.

Another perfect beer accompaniment are peanuts in sweetened vinegar with coriander. Despite trying to find out what else may have been in the uber-tasty sauce, the chef insisted it was just black vinegar and sugar. Whatever it was, it was moorish.

For the sweet of tooth, there are fried persimmons, and my favourite, sticky rice cake baked in a huge pot in layers with rice, dates, beans and other nuts and dried fruit. It’s cooked for so long that the dates form a caramel-type sticky sauce. The dish goes on sale around 3 or 4pm, and is sold out usually around 8.30 or 9pm. It’s so good.

Of course we tried rou jia mo and paomo (mo torn up and soaked in a mutton soup with pickled garlic, chili and coriander).

We were disappointed to not be able to find many vegetables…After a weekend in Xi’an we really felt like we’d eaten a lot of meat, and were happy to come back and have some greens and roughage. What Beijing could do with more of though, are the great outdoor dining options. Sitting on a low table with a beer, chuan’r and watching the Xi’an street life pass by, was special.

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