The Famous, The Unique, The Unforgettable.
Our historical trip to Xi’an turned out to be a full-on gastronomical one and there was no way we could’ve prevented it. From discovering 小吃 (small eats) along peaceful breakfast alleys to meeting the humble chef making ‘pasta’ nearby Emperor Qin’s mausoleum, with such scenes and scents combined, it is easy to see how É and I strayed from our initial mission. Whenever we think back of the ‘best food travel experience’ together, our memories always meet fondly at Xi’an food streets. That is to say, it is worth it to fly to Xi’an just for the food.
All said and done, I’ve put together a list of 17 street foods to hunt down while you’re at Xi’an. Most eateries are stalls instead of restaurants so unfortunately, I can not provide you with their exact addresses. But rest assured you will most likely see the same scenes performing their best when you get there.
1. Hand-stretched Noodles (Soup)
Where: At the entrance of Army of Terracotta Warriors & Horses museum
Want to see fresh dough dancing in the air, ending up as thick-cut noodles steaming from your lunch bowl? Regardless of whether you are a history lover, you will find yourself at one of the world wonders: the terracotta museum. Seeing that it is pretty far from the city centre, like us, you’d probably reach there around lunch time so stomachs will be growling.
As we got off the public bus, the first thing we laid our eyes on were a couple of road side stalls and men wearing humble chef hats. It was a funny scene because as I mentioned: road side. But with that noodle-kung fu though, he definitely did not seem out of place – not anymore.
Handmade noodles are served al dente in a delicious meat broth cooked with fresh diced tomatoes. If you stay around Shuyuanmen, Beilin district (which we highly recommend), there’ll be an abundance of village street food around the area. #2, 3 and 4 are hidden here.
2. Vegetables and Chilli Bao
Chillies attract É and I like the way flowers attract bees, so we couldn’t resist this one (with extra chillies of course).
3. 花干鸡蛋 (Dried ‘Flower’ Egg Sandwich)
At first glance, the beautiful name of 花干 (dried flower) might look like bamboo but it is actually one of the many types of soy products. Often braised, its texture has the chewiness of tendons, which gives it a very good ‘口感’.
Stuff that goodness into locally made daily bread topped with a brown egg, you have a very unique breakfast in hand; a simplicity that is hard to find any where else in this world.
4. More Hand-stretched Noodles (Dry)
Both cladded in blue, we posed for the camera, as I promised this village chef that I would get the word out about his kung fu noodles. (I swear the kawaii pose was his idea.) I hope his shop’s signboard can help you find him!
Like roti canai dough, this is also soaked in oil. It is then cut into shorter strips, rolled out, sliced and blanched in hot water before being served in glorious lustrous gravy with chunky meats and lots of healthy greens.
Simple ingredients, basic tools, used with secret skills.
Clear soup is served in a tall kettle, which you can help yourself to as much as you like.
I was at most in my element when I found myself at a huge bustling food street smacked in the muslim quarter. It reminded me a lot of Taiwan’s night markets except that in Xi’an, most food here is halal. But before you pork lovers out there start feeling skeptical, let me assure you that the food scene here is really something. Something different. From #6 to #15, you must try:
6. Skewers, skewers, skewers
Beef, lamb, chicken parts and all things halal, grilled effortlessly yet to perfection, basted with a variety of sauces and spices you’ll find a hard time choosing so skip wasting time and get one each. Bite into chunky meats and taste how the marinade runs deep. That is barbecue done right, Asian style.
This is a bad picture of me but I’ll sacrifice a little just to show you how crazy #6 can get. Pails and piles of skewer sticks racing to reach your height, line the food streets from start to end. REMINDER: BRING WET WIPES.
7. Seafood skewers
I mean, daymn, man. Look at the SIZE of those squids and busy crabs that died in glory.
8. Sheep’s Hooves
Okay, we didn’t eat this and weren’t tempted at all but for you adventurous foodies, you might not want to miss trying this hot number out.
9. Spicy Pan-Fried Tofu
This cross between ma po tofu and Taiwanese stinky tofu emerges as runner up in my list of favorite snacks along this food trail.
10. Fried Baby Potatoes in Spices
In my opinion, this is the winner of all snacks today. I wish I knew what the party of spices are so I can remake them at home but alas! I can only tell half of them. Let me know in the comments below if you figured them out!
11. Fragrant Chives Savoury Pancakes
Extra thin and tremendously tasty. One small bite can surprisingly ‘shake your world’.
12. Roujiamo ala pulled pork bun
Obviously this one is non-halal. Check out the queue!
Although this has the most media coverage, awards and attention going on, at this point É and I were stuffing our mouths with bao for the sake of fear that we may not be back here again. A different strategy would be to attack this first. #13 – #15 fall into the desserts category:
13. Hammered Candy
We feasted our eyes on this one instead of our mouths.
14. Honey Date Rice Cake
A traditional Xi’an specialty.
15. Fairy Cotton Candy
Within the Muslim Quarter, there are more main dishes and delicacies to try and savor, although we generally prefer the options available at the food streets, so much that we went there twice to tick off all the Must-Eats throughout our trip. Here you can find:
16. Liangpi (Cold) Noodles
At one of the stalls, we ordered this tangy, mala (numbing) lamb stew cooked in its own fat because every table has at least one yellow bowl (see above) and the shop was full. Was it edible? No. Not for us.
To go with it was cold noodles coated with what tasted like spicy peanut butter sauce and more mala pickled cabbages; self-service so good luck dealing with the arrogant lady boss next door.
Dessert was an ultra sweet sticky glob of ’7 treasures’, which I swore never to order again. É, also an avid food lover like me, despised everything about this meal so we went to hunt for some mutton dumplings.
17. Yangrou Paomo (Lamb Foam)
This last dish without a picture is actually the one and only dish you must try in Xi’an, not because it is the most delicious but because otherwise it’d be like having a foreign friend who visits Malaysia but fails to try nasi lemak.
I find it to be the most interesting dish though, as customers are given leaven bread to be torn by themselves, with their own hands!
P.S. The smaller you tear them, the better. The cooks will then simmer the torn pieces with beef or lamb (wherever you are, go with lamb) in a bowl of cloudy thick broth.
I end this post with my look whenever it’s time to look for food.