We arrive to Xian with little expectations for eating, leaving Xian it is one of our favourite food cities. It in no doubt exceeded expectations; street food everywhere, a city centre teeming with top-notch restaurants and of course eating in Xian is cheap, make the most of it. Among the best is the local Xian Food, food native to Xian and the surrounding Shaanxi Province. To track down them down your best bet is the Muslim Quarter, Beiyuanmen Street (video below) a seemingly endless stretch of street food, restaurants and bustle. Just make sure not to avoid the rest of Xian, while the Muslim Quarter is convenient it is also touristy; away from it you have an entire city of food to explore. Do go and explore.
1. Xian Gourd Chicken (Hu Lu Ji, 葫芦鸡)
Juicy tenderness on the inside, golden crisp on the outside. Xian Gourd Chicken can’t be far from chicken perfection. Cooked behind closed doors I will use a little guesswork here on preparation; the chicken (maybe) boiled whole first for tenderness before a quick deep-fry dunk to give that tasty crisp exterior. Often comes served with a chilli, fennel, salt and pepper dip which isn’t overly necessary, Gourd Chicken is seriously delicious alone. Note “Gourd” is a little misleading, no gourds are involved the cooking and the reference is to the gourd shape of the chicken (I don’t see it either). Gourd chicken may also be known as Shaanxi Chicken or Xian Chicken and is easier found in larger restaurants and sold as the whole chicken.
2. Mutton Flat Bread Stew (Yang Rou Pao Mo, 羊肉泡馍)
Pieces of pitta-like, leavened flat-bread, cooked in a meat broth and topped with tender slabs of mutton. While delicious I found the textures of this stew a tad weird, vermicelli noodles and soaked bread bringing an odd mix of chewy and gooey. While my taste buds weren’t overly excited by the initial taste the additions of chilli dips brings the dish to life. As expected this Mutton Flat Bread stew is filling and even I struggle to find the bottom of a small bowl (pictured below). This is a popular Muslim dish and is therefore best found in Xian’s Muslim quarter (Beiyuanmen Street), just look for restaurants lined with round, fat pita loafs.
3. Cold Noodles (Majiang Liang Pi,麻酱凉皮)
Warm noodles often fail to excite me… so cold noodles, they don’t really appeal at all. At least this is how I felt until I tried them; now I regret not exploring further. While ‘Cold’ tells me ‘Fridge Temperature’ the cold noodles I am served come warm(ish) more like room temperature. The flavours were honestly perfect for me the seasoning of chilli oil and soy vinegar well complimented by a rich sesame seed paste. An unlikely favourite for me offering a welcome change from my typical fiery dishes on food travels. As with most Chinese dishes ingredients can vary and restaurants offer their own take and secret recipes for cold noodles; the one I found is a favourite (again) in Xian’s Muslim quarter (Beiyuanmen Street).
4. Qishan Noodles (岐山臊子面)
In Southeast Asia noodle soups always fail to excite me; while being a staple here I continually opt for more filling, meaty and ultimately less soupy alternatives. With Xian food I hoped for more and I wasn’t disappointed. First off I love Qishan noodles, chewy wheat noodles, good for slurping and surprisingly filling. Next the toppings where meaty additions of sausage or even chicken drum sticks are the norm. Pickled long-beans… I am now an addict. And of course the broth where the Xian favourite is a hot, sour and savoury soup often laced with Sichuan Pepper for that special numbing flavour. We found a whole new world of Noodles in Xian, they became an obsession, stumbling from one side street noodle shop to the next, pointing to random noodle dishes on wall menus and eating whatever lands on the table. Do it.
5. Chinese Hamburger (Rou Jia Mo, 肉夹馍)
Stewed meat, cleavered to bits, stuffed in a pitta bun, flavoured by drizzles of meat gravy and chilli paste. The secret in Chinese hamburgers is found in the stew as vendors lace their own recipe with numerous spices and flavours; think chilli, cumin and the mouth numbing Sichuan pepper. While pork is the popular choice of meat on Xian’s streets in the Muslim Quarters you will find more mutton or beef (Halal). The Chinese Hamburger originates from Xian but is now popular as street food throughout China, I think this sums up its deliciousness. The Hamburger will likely be the easiest Xian food to find, day to night, both as street food and on restaurant menus.