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Xi’an Cuisine Posted by on Oct 17, 2016 in Culture

If you live in New York, chances are you’ve stumbled upon one of the Xi’an Famous Foods (西安名吃 – xī’ān míng chī) restaurants. After being featured in several publications and TV shows, their popularity skyrocketed. The family-run chain recently opened its 11th location in the New York area and hopes to expand to more markets soon. So, what exactly are the famous foods of Xi’an? Let’s take a closer look at some of the city’s most famous dishes, starting with a little background info:

What is X’ian Cuisine?

Walking in the Muslim Quarter of Xi'an - a great place to eat.

Walking in the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an – a great place to eat.

As the provincial capital, the cuisine of Xi’an falls mostly under the larger umbrella of Shaanxi cuisine (陕西菜 – shǎn xī cài). Also known as Qin cuisine (秦菜 – qín cài), this style of Chinese cooking retains characteristics going all the way back to the Qin Dynasty. Due to its location, it’s got a little bit of a mixture of north and south. As it’s in between Shanxi and Sichuan province, the cuisine here can be both sour (Shanxi) and spicy (Sichuan). Since this part of China doesn’t receive as much rain as others, wheat is the main crop as opposed to rice. This means you’ll find more noodles and dumplings as staple dishes.

The cuisine of Shaanxi is best know for its mutton and pork dishes. Salt, vinegar, garlic, onion, and capsicum are used liberally in this regional cuisine. Popular cooking methods used in this style include braising, steaming, stir-frying, and qiang (熗 – qiàng), where you cook vegetables lightly in water or oil and then top it with a sauce or fragrant oils.

The province and the cuisine can be divided into three regions – Guanzhong (central), Shannan (south), and Shanbei (north). Xi’an is located in the central region, so you’ll find that this style is very prevalent. As it’s the capital, though, you’ll find cuisine from all over the province – and all over the country, for that matter.

Famous Foods from Shaanxi

Mutton stew with crumbled flatbread (羊肉泡馍 – yáng ròu pào mó)

Yang Rou Pao Mo

Yang Rou Pao Mo

This is far and away the most famous dish from this part of China. It’s said that visitors to Xi’an must do two things – visit the Terracotta Warriors and eat yangrou paomo. This hot stew features a lamb broth and meat, with plenty of chopped up steamed leavened bread. It usually comes with a bit of seasoning such as coriander already mixed in, and you can then add pickled or raw garlic cloves and chili paste to season it to your liking. This hearty stew is a delicious, filling lunch, and is best enjoyed during the cold winter months.

Biang Biang Noodles

And this is the simplified version! Image by timquijano from flickr.com.

And this is the simplified version! Image by timquijano from flickr.com.

Noodle dishes are all the rage in Xi’an, and perhaps none are more famous than this one. They’re well-known across the country thanks to their unique name – biang is the most complex Chinese character. It’s not found in dictionaries and you can’t even type it, thus phonetic substitutes are often used such as 彪彪面 (biāo biāo miàn). The noodles are very thick and wide, and are often compared to a belt. They’re also especially long – sometimes one noodle can fill an entire bowl. See biang biang noodles and some other popular street foods from Xi’an in this video by Lonely Planet:

Rou jiamo (肉夹馍 – ròu jiā mó)

肉夹馍 (pork sandwich)

肉夹馍 (pork sandwich)

Often referred to simply as a “Chinese hamburger,” this ubiquitous street snack can be found in all corners of the Middle Kingdom. Despite the name, it’s almost always made with pork instead of beef. The pork is stewed for hours in a soup containing twenty kinds of spices, then cut up with some garnishes and served in a cut up piece of the aforementioned flat bread. In Chinese, the bread is simply known as 馍, which is why you see this character in both names. Sometimes you’ll find beef or lamb used instead of pork, especially in Muslim areas such as Gansu. Usually costing less than a dollar (around 5 RMB a piece), this is a cheap and tasty snack that’s popular all over the country.

 

For more on the Xi’an style and the Xi’an Famous Foods restaurant in New York, check out this profile on them from Business Insider:

 

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


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