A Taste of China: Xi’an Eats

by spiceaholic on December 9, 2010

Have I whetted your appetite for our Xi’an eats?  I hope so?  Just looking at some of the pics brings back memories and makes me wish I could go back for one last taste.

Our first meal in Xi’an was not Chinese food — it was Japanese!

Just outside where the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is located is a touristy area full of shops and restaurants.  Since lunch wasn’t included as part of today’s tour, we were on our own to figure out lunch.  Luckily Frank, our tour guide, has done this tour many times so he was able to make suggestions for where we could go.  Most of us ended up following him to this Japanese restaurant, while others headed off to KFC and Papa Johns.  Yup, there is no shortage of American fast food restaurants in China.  There was probably a KFC, McDonalds, or Starbucks every few minutes.  Let me get it on the record that we didn’t eat in any of those restaurants while we were in China.  Go us!

Anyway, the restaurant probably wasn’t expecting a horde of hungry tourists who didn’t speak the language, but they did a good job of getting us seated in groups, and after lots of pointing and gesturing, we were able to place our orders.

Turns out this place served mostly noodles, which was fine with me.  I saw lots of things I wanted to try, but managed to narrow it down to the “volcano noodles.” No description of what it was, but it had a sign indicating it was spicy, so that was good enough for me.

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As I was taking pictures, some guy that worked there came over and was trying to tell me no pictures were allowed. I pretended not to understand and then snuck a picture of my food. I’m such a rebel.

My noodles were excellent! The stuff on top turned out to be pork, so I took it off my plate and worked on slurping up the noodles and their spicy sauce. I loved it, I was going through spicy withdrawal and this hit the spot.

Later on after we’d finished our tour of the pagoda, we were thirsty so I bought us a couple drinks.

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Coke Zero! I had such a hard time finding diet soft drinks in China, so I usually ended up sucking it up and drinking regular pop. It was good to see this.

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I was excited to see Mirinda for sale. I remember drinking this when I was younger  – either when we were visiting relatives in Bangladesh or else when we lived in Kuwait. I asked Mr. Spice if he remembered it, since he too spent lots of summers in Bangladesh and also lived in the Middle East when he was younger and he did remember it! I tried a taste for old time’s sake — tastes like a fizzy Tang.  I don’t think I’ve seen it in the U.S. unless it was in an ethnic store.  Correct me if I’m wrong!

That night was the optional dumpling dinner and Tang Dynasty dance show.  I already shared pics from the show, but now it’s time to check out all the dumplings.  This was more like a dumpling banquet, featuring almost 20 types of dumplings!  I guess these were originally served to royalty and each dumpling was in a different shape, and the shape was supposed to signify what the dumpling contained.  So say a fish-shaped dumpling would contain fish, one shaped like a duck would contain duck, etc.

We started off with some cold appetizer dishes:

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I got a slice of beef, duck, a fried fish thing, and a couple fried dumpling-esque items.

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Lotus root! I’d never had it before — this was served with a sweet, citrusy sauce that made it taste like candy.

Now on to the dumpling extravaganza!  I didn’t sample every single dumpling — there were over 20 “courses” and I got full really quickly.  But here’s some highlights:

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My breakfasts in Xi’an were pretty much the same, so I only took one set of pictures.

Check out the awesome fruit display in the dining room:

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As you can see, I was still all about the huge breakfasts. By the time we left Xi’an, I was ready to lighten up at breakfast.

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Eggs, bacon, rice, noodles, potatoes, and a steamed bun.  Very hearty, but then we had a long day ahead of us — the Terracotta Warriors, City Wall, and the Muslim quarter awaited us!  Okay, and I like big breakfasts.  And I’m a piggy at buffets.

Walking around in the cold will definitely work up your appetite.  After we were done at the Terracotta Warrior museum, we stopped for lunch.

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We started off with some cold dishes — some fried tofu thing, fried fish, and greens.

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Some not so good soup. I wasn’t a fan of the soup while we were in China.  Someone in our group nailed it when they said the broth tasted like dishwater.

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Tea!!  This might have been jasmine tea, it had a floral taste to it, but not in a bad way.

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Rice and a beef and veggie dish.  Tasted like a better version of pepper steak.

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Adding some chicken and veggies to the mix.  There was usually a good mix of beef, pork, and chicken dishes.  I loaded up on the beef and chicken dishes.

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A very spicy chicken dish, a flaky bread that tasted like parathas, and fresh orange segments to end lunch.

That evening is when Mr. Spice and I had our adventure in the Muslim quarter trying to find the Great Mosque of Xi’an and Jia Brothers’ Restaurant.

I already posted this in the Xi’an sights thread, but since it’s food I’m posting it again!  We passed a stall selling fresh-baked bread and I couldn’t resist snapping a pic of the stamped design.

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Finding Jia Brothers’ Restaurant was no easy task. I knew the English name from trolling the internet, but when I asked the front desk of our hotel for directions, I got a blank look at first. When I explained it was a restaurant in the Muslim quarter they seemed to know what I was talking about. They wrote the name down in Chinese but explained that the restaurant didn’t have a sign in English so I’d have to ask people to point us in the right direction. At least we knew what street it was going to be on!

By the time we left the mosque, it was dark outside, so I was getting nervous that we wouldn’t be able to find it. Luckily we thought of a brilliant plan: I approached female store-owners and said ni hao, smiled, pointed to the restaurant name and they would point me down the street, at which point I would say xie xie and move on to the next person. Third time’s a charm and I finally found someone who spoke English and told us exactly where to go!

I’m pretty sure this is the front of the restaurant . . .

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Once inside, we were ushered up to the third floor where we were seated and menus placed before us. I’d done some reading up on the restaurant, and I knew that the steamed beef dumplings were a must here. There were some other dishes I’d read that people recommended, but the names/descriptions they gave didn’t match what was in the menu, so it was a little frustrating deciding what to get. I admit to being a little picky too and not wanting to be too adventurous. We finally decided on the dumplings and decided to order the beef and mutton kababs.

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These were similar to the soup dumplings we had in Shanghai except instead of pork in the filling, there was a spiced beef. It tasted like cinnamon or star anise. Pretty good.

Our favorites hands-down were the kababs. Sometimes simple is best.

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I had the beef and Mr. Spice had the mutton. They were prepared the same way, with cumin and red chili, and then grilled on skewers. Easily some of the best kababs I’ve ever had. We ended up ordering another round of the kababs. I’m in love with these kababs and the taste will forever haunt me, since now I’m going to be obsessed with re-creating them!

That’s all for Xi’an, stay tuned for the conclusion of our China tour: Beijing!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

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