Each of our three days in Xi’an was better than the last. Then again, when you start off with a cold rainy day, one of us with a cold, a budget-negotiation crisis over a new tube of fancy face cream, and a 45 minute search for a restaurant that we ultimately decided has been torn down, it’s not hard to improve.
Xi’an is best known as the home of the Terracotta Warriors, the army of thousands of sculpted-clay soldiers buried along with a Qin-dynasty emperor to protect him in the after life. As with many Chinese ancient sights, there was some initial ambiguity as to what was original and what was a recreation, but we eventually figured out that archeologists have spent the last 35 years digging up shards of the wrecked statues, each of which is a totally unique person, and meticulously gluing them back together piece by piece. Only a fraction of the multi-acre site has been excavated, and it still is a awesome site.
True to our character, Eliza and I very much enjoyed the history and scenery of Xi’an, but what really had us enamored with the city was the food. Day one’s dinner search was a bust, but we have embraced APT’s (my former employer) motto that “if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough,” when it comes to our culinary adventures.
Xi’an is the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, and its cuisine is influenced greatly by the Muslim traders who settled there. The Muslim quarter’s narrow alleyways are packed with small restaurants, nut and dried-fruit vendors, and plenty of touristy souvenir shops. We ate dinner in the Muslim quarter Friday night, and we owe the success of the meal to Eliza’s masterful matching of menu items to the must-haves listed in our Lonely Planet guide book.
Xi’an’s signature dish is yangrou paomo, a rich lamb broth soaked up by pea-sized bits of a dense local bread and topped with cellophane noodles and slices of lamb. The tiny chewy bits of broth-soaked bread pushed our chopstick skills to the limit, but was well worth the challenge. Paired with the slippery noodles and flakey, tender, and beyond-delicious lamb slices, the experience was at the same time an exotic adventure and a comforting reminder of home: brisket and matzah ball soup.
Also on the menu were spicy cumin lamb kebabs, braised lamb feet, mistakenly-ordered but surprisingly delicious fried rice (our first fried rice of China, strangely enough) and local Hans beer. The kebabs were served Churrascuria-style, a great way to explore new foods with minimal language skills.
We followed up the meal with fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice from a street stall, which put POM to shame. The fruit stalls sell a pretty wide variety of familiar fruits, but the overwhelming number of persimmons and pomegranates available was a reminder of the seasonality of produce that you barely see in the US.
Not to miss an opportunity to eat, we also indulged in Xi’an’s street food. Most notably we lunched on roujiamo, the local sandwich. We’ve had it a few different ways, but the hallmark traits are a round, dense flat bread filled with meat, fresh veggies and herbs for seasoning, and an extra dash of grease. Our favorite used flakey bread – almost like an Indian roti – with a filling of chopped lamb, chillies, and garlic.
We’re now on the train to Nanjing for some history and seafood. We’re snacking on our last Xi’an treat, a piece of a giant dried fruit and nut cake – think the world’s largest granola bar.
Enjoy the food porn below (and in a subsequent post, due to Internet limitations), and stay tuned for more!
Sent from my iPad