Xian Report: October 2007
Like most other tourists, our primary purpose in visiting Xian was to see the terracotta army of warriors and horses buried by the First Qin Emperor. It is an amazing sight and a thrill to see it. We marveled at the demonstration of wealth it took for such an undertaking.
We planned to see the terracotta army and expected to be amazed at that. But what we weren’t expecting was to be just blown away by the food of Xian.
We stayed at the centrally located Bell Tower Hotel, just across a busy intersection from the Xian Bell Tower. There is a convenient underground passage between the hotel, the Bell Tower and lots of shopping and restaurants in the central area.
On our first night there, we wanted to have dinner somewhere close to the hotel and fortunately for us, one of the restaurants at the other end of the underground passage was the famous De Fa Chang Dumpling house so our decision on where to eat was easy. And it turned out to be a good choice.
On the first floor of the restaurant, there is a typical dumpling service; a large loud room with mostly local patrons ordering baskets full of beautiful steamed dumplings. If we had stayed in the city longer, we would have loved to come back for another meal on the first floor. But “The Banquet” that we had read about and had come for is served on the 2nd floor so up we went.
Since we were in a group of only 3 people, we were matched up with another group of 3 and seated at a large round table. As we were seated, we noticed a television program featuring the restaurant was being filmed 2 tables away.
The meal starts with some small trays of pickles and salads and then a large basket of dumplings. These dumplings were of no special shape or design but simply tasted good. The pastry was soft and translucent and the meat filling flavorful.
Then the waitress started serving baskets filled with a variety of dumplings; some shaped to represent the filling of the dumpling while others simply shaped for decoration. We really lost count of how many different dumplings were served but here’s a link to a video of some of the dumplings a quick scan of the room: http://www.crackle.com/c/Travel/De_Fa...
Each diner is served several baskets of dumplings and more of the “generic” dumplings served with the appetizers also appear at the table.
The last banquet course is a hot pot with a soup of a clear broth with very small dumplings boiling away. This video shows the soup pot as well as a passing glimpse of a full basket of the main course dumpling sampler being served for a late arriving friend. http://www.crackle.com/c/Travel/Xain_...
Here is another shot of the soup being served. There is a story that goes along with the soup course something to the effect of the person who gets the most small dumplings in their soup lives longer or is lucky or makes lots of money. http://crackle.com/c/Travel/Dumpling_...
The cost of the banquet was 130 yuan a person, which includes tea and a small glass of beer but not other beverages.
On our 2nd evening in Xian, we decided to visit the Muslim Snack Street for a meal at Jia Brothers' Restaurant. The restaurant is well known for its version of the local specialty, Guan Tang Baozi, steamed dumplings with soup inside the pasty. We ordered a large basket of beef dumplings but also took the opportunity to enjoy a delicious plate of mutton ribs, chicken in 3 chilies and grilled lamb on skewers. The mutton ribs are slow cooked to a falling-off-the-bone texture and were my personal favorite. The chicken was spicy without being to hot to eat and the lamb skewers were proof that sometimes the simple path (meat on a stick over a fire) is the best.
While we were waiting for service, our local friend went out onto the street and came back with another local Xian specialty: persimmon cakes. We started out just taking a nibble as it is a sweet and we didn’t want to spoil our appetite but they were so good, we each ended up eating a whole portion.
Here’s a video of the mutton ribs and spicy chicken at Jia Brothers: http://crackle.com/c/Travel/Moslem_re...
And another of the soup dumplings at Jai brothers: http://crackle.com/c/Travel/Soup_dump...
After dinner we strolled down the Muslim Snack Street passing by street vendors selling grilled lamb skewers, roasted meats in pita bread and all sorts of other beautiful looking (and smelling) food.
To reach the Snack Street, find your way to the Drum Tower and simply walk through the tunnel leading through it’s base. You’ll emerge from the tunnel into another world.
This video shows us and our friend walking back through the Drum Tower on our way out of the Snack Street area: http://www.crackle.com/c/Travel/Xian_...
I'm glad you took advantage of the snacks in the Muslim Quarter, so many of my friend's shied away from street food but it is amazing. My personal favourite was shizi bing, sweet filled fried pancakes. China doesn't seem to have much of a sweet tooth but those were great and dripping with unhealthy indulgence.
shizi bing are persimmon cakes. I was just there on the weekend and didn't get to try as many things as I wanted but the yang rou pao mao there was amazing - much better than the same dish eaten here in Sichuan.
my favourite thing to eat was also sweet - 江米糕 jiang1 mi3 gao1. Unsweetened rice dough wrapped around walnuts and sugar and deep fried.