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Xi'an Cuisine and Biáng Biáng Noodles


liuzhou
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Xi'an is my favourite city in China for food. Not my favourite Chinese cuisine*, but favourite city. I lived there for a while in the 1990s and have returned many times since.

It is almost bang in the centre of China, was the Tang dynasty's capital and was the starting point of the Silk Road. As a result, it has absorbed and developed its cuisine from all over China and beyond. Also, it has a large Muslim population which has hugely influenced the cuisine.

Luckily, I have an excellent Xi'an restaurant near my home owned and staffed by Xi'an natives so I don’t go without.

 

I'll try to post as much about its many dishes as I can.

 

 

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* That is Hunan cuisine – especially in the west of the province.

 

roujiamo2.jpg

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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The Chinese noodle dish whose name doesn't exist - BBC

The dish is not new. It was just recently renamed. I lived in Xi'an in 1996-97 and the biáng name didn't exist then. Some restaurants still sell it under the old name - 油泼扯面 (yóu pō chě miàn). 

 

And here is the Chinese "character" in question. It is just a marketing gimmick.

 

Biang.gif.126d83fc559df121e6662afed1ce0ede.gif

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Posted (edited)

It might sound off-putting, but a Xi 'an favourite is 凉皮 (liáng pí) - literally 'cold skin', another noodle dish. In this type, the noodle making method is somewhat unusual.

 

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They are made from flour (wheat or rice) mixed with lightly salted water to make a dough. So far nothing unusual.

The dough is then rinsed again and again with more water until all the starch is removed. The rinsing water is reserved and when all the starch has been extracted, the dough is discarded or used in another application (see below). The starchy water is rested overnight.

 

The starch settles to the bottom and is collected, with the clear  water being discarded. The starch is then spread out into a layer to make a 'skin' and steamed until it sets into a sheet. It is then cooled and sliced into thick noodles.

The noodles are always served cold, often from street side carts (and Xi'an can be bitterly cold in winter). They are mixed with various vegetables including bean sprouts, cucumber, carrot, daikon radish, peanuts etc and covered in a spicy sauce.

 

The discarded dough is often used to make seitan aka wheat gluten which is also frequently served in the dish.

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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5 hours ago, liuzhou said:

It might sound off-putting, but a Xi 'an favourite is 凉皮 (liáng pí ), another noodle dish


I think the translation „cold skin (noodles)“ would  explain the off-putting aspect a bit ...

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Posted (edited)
56 minutes ago, Duvel said:


I think the translation „cold skin (noodles)“ would  explain the off-putting aspect a bit ...

 

That was my point. I don't see anything else potentially off-putting.

Edited by liuzhou (log)

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17 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

 

That was my point. I don't see anything else potentially off-putting.


And my point was to make your point it would be helpful to include the English translation. Not everyone is fluent in Chinese ...

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Posted (edited)
7 minutes ago, Duvel said:


And my point was to make your point it would be helpful to include the English translation. Not everyone is fluent in Chinese ...

 

Ah! Sorry. I thought I had translated it. I normally do. Now edited.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Something in Xi'an cuisine which may seem more mainstream next. However, it is far from mainstream in China. The Chinese generally don't eat raw food of any description. They consider it deadly poison! I often horrify friends by wolfing down raw food. Raw oysters have them running.

 

But there is an exception. Tiger salad (老虎菜 - lǎo hǔ cài), literally 'old tiger vegetable' is one of very few dishes served raw in China, It is a simple salad.

In fact, there are two versions of this dish. One is from the far north-east of China but the Xi'an version actually comes from China's westernmost province of Xinjiang, China's troubled Muslim province. It lies on what was the ancient Silk Road which started or ended in Xi'an depending which direction you were travelling

 

It consists of a mix of strips of cucumber, carrot, daikon, onion, coriander leaf/cilantro, etc, tossed in a spicy chilli dressing. The strips of vegetable are thought to resemble the stripes of the tiger, hence the name. I often have this with my rou jia mo, when I'm in Xi'an. The refreshing, crisp salad perfectly complements the sandwich.

 

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Xi'an Tiger Salad

 

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1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

The Chinese generally don't eat raw food of any description. They consider it deadly poison! I often horrify friends by wolfing down raw food. Raw oysters have them running.

 

I know this was mentioned in another topic, and you did opine that now sushi is actually becoming popular.

 

But what's the reason for the deep-seated aversion to raw foods?  Is it due to worry about germs, parasites, etc.? Which makes sense in any culture, especially if it's even harder to clean stuff properly. 

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36 minutes ago, weinoo said:

 

I know this was mentioned in another topic, and you did opine that now sushi is actually becoming popular.

 

But what's the reason for the deep-seated aversion to raw foods?  Is it due to worry about germs, parasites, etc.? Which makes sense in any culture, especially if it's even harder to clean stuff properly. 

 

Well, some people eat sushi; others are terrified by the very idea. I'd say it's still a small minority who do eat it. I have friends, otherwise adventurous eaters, who have refused to go to sushi places with me. (Although, as I also mentioned before, there is strong evidence that sushi originated in China and was imported to Japan.)

Yes, it's largely a hygiene and parasite issue. "Night soil" is still used in rural areas, although not so much as even 20 years ago. I'm not sure that's a good thing - chemical fertilisers are taking its place. People do wash everything very, very carefully - meat, vegetables, rice etc are all scrubbed before cooking.

 

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When I used to go to Xi'an Famous Foods, a restaurant chain in NYC that focuses on Xi'an food, I would the get the liang pi from time to time as well as the tiger salad.

 

I've seen just a few raw dishes, like the liang pi - a smacked cucumber salad with chili oil and lots of garlic, and I was surprised to see some sort of salad in the donkey meat restaurant in Beijing - I think the salad was made from celtuce tops:

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Yes, cucumbers are a rare exception. The smacked cuke is very common (although I know people who won't touch it).

I've eaten donkey in Beijing but never seen that salad or any other. Interesting.
 

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4 hours ago, liuzhou said:
I've eaten donkey in Beijing but never seen that salad or any other. Interesting.
 


During my time of monthly visits to Xinjiang I had plenty of „tiger salads“, but you are right - all other veggies were either cooked or pickled ...

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Posted (edited)

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Probably the one Xi'an food that people throughout China have eaten, whether they have actually been to the city or not, is 羊肉串 (yáng ròu chuàn). They are sold in night markets everywhere in the country - China's most ubiquitous street food. They are lamb/mutton kebabs. Who doesn't like food on sticks? When I lived in Xi'an there was nothing I liked better of an evening than to go out, either alone or with friends and find a street stall selling Yang Rou Chuan. They weren't hard to find. See the last Chinese character in the name which looks like a kebab! They are available in some restaurants, but are more commonly found as street food. Bite size pieces of mutton (fatty tail meat is the prime choice) are threaded on sticks and grilled over charcoal while being sprinkled with cumin and chilli. They will omit the chili if you are not a spice lover. Me, I ask for extra! It is astonishing how many of these you can get through on a warm summer evening in the open air, washing them down with a cold beer in good company.

 

Some stalls sell only these; others also offer alternative meats such as beef or chicken and also sheep offal. Due to Xi'an's large Muslim population, pork is rare. Outside any of Xi'an's universities is a good place to look for kebab stalls and they are often cheaper than in the touristy Muslim Quarter. I regularly ate them for a year at the same stall beside Northwest University near the South Gate of the wall. Cheap and cheerful.

 

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Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Some Chinese friends in Beijing took us to what they called a Xinjiang "chuan'r" place - it was also Muslim.  They had a huge variety of grilled stuff on sticks with that chili/cumin rub.  It was great... they also did hand pulled noodles (in soup).  But geographically, is Xinjiang further North/West than Xi'an?

 

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Posted (edited)
27 minutes ago, KennethT said:

But geographically, is Xinjiang further North/West than Xi'an?

 

North and west. Xinjiang is China's westernmost province, bordering various 'stans'. - Kazakstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It also borders Mongolia to the north and Tibet to the south. The local language is more Turkic than Chinese. Great food!

 

船儿 (chuàn ér) is the common name in Beijing where they liked to stick 'er' on many words.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Although the kebabs above are known throughout China, the dish which most people rightly associate with Xi'an is this, even if they have never actually eaten it.

 

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Image by NNU-1-05100104 from Wikipedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license*.

 

羊肉泡馍 (yáng ròu pào mó), literally 'sheep meat soaked bread' is a stew containing lamb or mutton in a lamb broth with torn up bread (馍 - ) and noodles. A hearty, filling dish which is very welcome in Xi'an's bitter winter. Usually served with pickled or raw garlic and chilli  sauce.

 

Recipe here.

There is an alternative, less common version which uses beef instead - 牛肉泡馍 (niúròu pàomó). The best place to try this is in the Muslim Quarter.

 

* To my surprise, I don't seem to have a picture of the dish, despite having eaten it literally hundreds of  times. I would have gone out to the local Xi'an restaurant and had some for lunch, but we are in our 5th day of appalling non-stop monsoon rains. I'll replace the Wikipedia picture with one of my own later.

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Posted (edited)

Xi'an is the capital of Shaanxi Province (陕西 - shǎn xī), not to be confused with neighbouring Shanxi  Province (山西 - shān xī) and much of its cuisine comes from the surrounding countryside. Another popular winter warmer comes from Qishan County (岐山县 - qí shān xiàn) to the west of the capital.

 

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臊子面 (sāo zi miàn), minced pork noodles, for obvious reasons, is not part of Xi'an's Muslim cultural heritage so don't go looking for it in the Muslim Quarter. The dish consists of fatty pork belly which is minced (or chopped) and cooked in a strongly flavoured stock with vinegar and chilli. Other ingredients can include carrots, tofu, green beans, day lily, eggs, wood-ear fungus, etc.

 

Beware of bad translations on menus. The first character in the name (sāo) has more than one meaning. It can mean 'shy' or 'bashful', but the alternative meaning to watch for is 'urine scented'. So, if you see 'urine smell noodles' on the menu, go ahead and order it! The dish does not smell of urine at all. In the local dialect, with the (zi) added, 臊子 (sāo zi) simply means minced or diced meat (as part of a dish).

 

It is sour, spicy and fragrant.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Posted (edited)

Another Xinjiang dish which most visitors wind up eating in Xi'an, where it has been adopted, is the well-known Big Plate Chicken - 大盘鸡 (dà pán jī). Many of those visitors assume that they are eating some ancient, traditional Muslim dish but they are wrong.

While it is agreed that it is a modern dish, there are two conflicting theories as to its origin, neither of which are related to any Muslim cuisine or tradition.

The most widely accepted story is that the dish was invented in the north Xinjiang county of Shawan (沙湾县 - shā wān xiàn) in the early 1990s by an immigrant from Sichuan who was trying to recreate his home town flavours, but using locally available chicken and potatoes. The inclusion of Sichuan peppercorns in nearly all recipes supports this theory as Sichuan peppercorns are not otherwise part of Xinjiang cuisine.

 

The second story is more sketchy - it suggests that the inventor was from Hunan instead and that it was invented near Ürümqi (乌鲁木齐 - wū lǔ mù qí), Xinjiang's capital.

Whichever story you believe, the dish became popular in the mid to late 1990s. I remember being introduced to it in Xi'an in 1997, when it was described as a 'new dish'. The dish caught on in its birthplace, then spread out along what was the Silk Road to Xi'an, then all over China. Some say it was aided in this by its popularity with long distance truck drivers.

 

So what is it? Simply a delicious stew of bite-sized chicken cooked and served on-the-bone with potatoes, onions and bell peppers. It is, of course flavoured with the traditional Chinese holy trinity of garlic, ginger and chilli and spiced with star anise, cumin and the Sichuan peppercorns.

 

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It is usually served with wide, hand-pulled noodles known as 拉条子 - lā tiáo zi in Chinese or laghman in the local languages of Xinjiang. These may served with the dish or after the dish has been eaten, to mop up the remaining sauce. Alternatively, it can be served with naan bread (馕包大盘鸡 - náng bāo dà pán jī), my favourite way to have it. Again, the bread is to soak up the sauce.
 
A word of warning. Most restaurants serve this either large or small. Yes, small big plate chicken! The small version (shown above) is easily enough to feed two to three people. Or more when served with other dishes. A large one will feed your entire extended family including the dog. I have often seen noob customers order the large for two,usually a couple with the man saying "I m hungry! Lets get the large one!" It keeps the restaurant staff amused when, to the customers' shock, they deliver enough food for the week.

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Posted (edited)

Another 'noodle' dish from Xi'an.

 

驴蹄子面 (lǘ tí zi miàn) - Donkey Hoof Noodles. Also known as 偷懒的面 (tōu lǎn de miàn) - Lazy Noodles, as this is what people make when they are too lazy to roll or pull noodles properly!

 

The dough is cut into shapes resembling donkey hooves, or so they say. No donkey is involved here.

 

 

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