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Xi'an Restaurant -- in a tiny basement food stall, a taste of western China

I skulked along the back corridors of the Golden Mall, my head bowed, my face buried in my coat collar. I'm a regular customer of Chengdu Heaven and I didn't want them to see me eating in a rival establishment. But I was bound and determined to eat at the only restaurant in the New York area offering food from Xi'an.

Stall Number 36 at the mall at 41-28 Main Street, Flushing, is a narrow space with every square inch of wall space devoted to photographs of luscious-looking food. I was deciding what to order when the man who runs the stall came up. He speaks fluent English and was glad of any opportunity to try it out. I told him I'd been to Xi'an and he wanted to know the exact neighborhood; he grew up there and probably misses it. We talked and then I asked about a lamb dish in the photos. Have it mixed with this, he said, pointing to a photo of wide noodles. It didn't sound like a good idea, but I tried it anyway. I'm glad I did. It was delicious!

The lamb was on top. It was lamb brushed with cumin, just like you'd get at Little Pepper or Chengdu Heaven. But Xi'an probably got it first. The idea of using cumin came from the west, along the silk road, back when Xi'an, then called Chang'an, was the capital of China and arguably the center of the world. Twelve hundred years ago the central market at Chang'an was ringed with hundreds of food stalls (probably a lot like this one) featuring food from Persia and points west, as well as food from China. In any case, the cumin lamb, mixed with a few green peppers, was excellent. But the noodles were the star of the show. Broad, chewy and hand-cut (something like peel noodles), they were unlike anything I'd ever tasted. There were tiny cubes of bread mixed in to soak up the sauce -- and again I've never had anything like that reddish broth. A rich, very unusual and totally unidentifiable flavor. I used a spoon to make sure I got every drop.

Though Xi'an is pretty far west of, say, Peking, it isn't really Western China. But I think the food was very much influenced by the West -- not the west of Europe, or cowboys, but the West of the Silk Road, chaikhanas serving turbaned traders, mud-brick mosques. And indeed there was no pork on the menu. Xi'an has a small Hui Muslim minority, and some of the best restaurants offer Hui food. I have no idea if the owner is Hui. But his food is certainly influenced by Hui cooking, and this stall offers a rare chance to try it.

More on Hui cuisine:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hui_people
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_...

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Golden Shopping Mall
41-28 Main St, Queens, NY 11355

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  1. wow awesome report...you really find some interesting stuff

    1. I just got back from X'ian last week (yet to post). Did they have the gray/black noodles, made from buckwheat (kasha)?

      1. I love you and you are my favorite poster on this whole forum.

        I'll be hitting up this stall as soon as I get home on he 17th or 18th. In fact, I'll probably go straight from the airport.

        1. Brian,

          You really do deserve a lot of credit, Bravo! I was at Chengdu Heaven on March 3, noticed and posted about the photos.....But they had no English labels and I just assumed that language would be a problem...that's what you get, Felix Unger when you assume. Can't wait to go back and try .....also, as I mentioned in the earlier post, across from the photo stall, I watched a cook stretching hand pulled noodles....again, "food" for thought.

          1 Reply
          1. re: toby1355

            Thanks to all for your kind words. Toby I saw your post (and meant to reply) and it reminded me about that Xi'an stall and inspired me to try it. I spoke to the guy in Chinese and was very surprised when he responded in fluent English. The Xi'an stall was very crowded, by the way. I went back a few minutes later to get a $1.50 vegetable turnover (very good), and all the seats were taken! By the way, my meal, not including the turnover, cost $7.

          2. hey brian, this is actually the same stall that was discussed in another thread from last february, complete with photos:

            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/370750

            in that thread, i'd mainly talked about the ro bing (what the owner referred to as "chinese hamburgers"). and one of the meat options for those "sandwiches" is shredded pork (along with lamb and beef). so the place definitely isn't halal.

            the owner told my mandarin-speaking friend that he's not muslim, but because of the muslim influence on xi'an's culture and cuisine, you'll find a lot of muslim-derived dishes at non-muslim establishments...which results in pork dishes like at this place.

            anyway, when i first went to this place, the menu was scattered on numerous slips of colored paper hanging on the walls. but sometime toward the end of summer (i think), he replaced them with those color photos, which obviously makes the ordering process far easier for those of us who don't speak mandarin.

            last time i went a couple of weeks ago, the owner directed me to a lamb soup with wide flat noodles...possibly the same one you had, although there were numerous soups utilizing those noodles. i thought the one i received was simple but quite good, with several similarities to the flat noodle lamb soup served by the guy at the henan stall upstairs ( http://www.chowhound.com/topics/350358 ). the main differences, though, were that the lamb chunks were bigger and less fatty, and there was no sliced soybean curd or seaweed. basically, it reminded me of a simpler version of that henan noodle soup in that it had fewer flourishes.

            12 Replies
            1. re: surly

              Surly,
              Yeah - you beat me to the punch. I had figured from Brian's description that this was the Ro Bing place, only it seems as if it has expanded its' menu items. The photos strike me as being a relatively recent thing - something I only noticed a few weeks back. Another giveaway was how friendly the guy is, very welcoming. I've had two ro bings, the pork and the lamb. The pork reminds me of pulled pork, whereas the lamb can be alternately greasy and crispy, depending on where you bite into the thing. The one time I tried their lamb noodle soup, which had to be around a year ago, I wasn't crazy about it. But then, that was one time, so it might not be fair to judge.

              In any event, although this stall has been discussed on this board, I'm glad to see it get a thread of its' own. There are still quite a few stalls down there that haven't gotten as much attention. A few of them seem to have hot pot selections.
              P.

              1. re: Polecat

                lamb that is alternately greasy and crispy . . . DAMN that sound good.

              2. re: surly

                Yes, it's the same stall. (Though I'd totally forgotten that post and when I went there I thought I was the first to report on it.) The sign is the same (and so is the phone number) and does indeed say Xi'an. http://farm1.static.flickr.com/132/38...

                1. re: Brian S

                  Doesn't matter who gets there first. (You actually posted in the 2/07 thread, and even phoned this stall, right?) Anyway, your revisit and update, on a place little mentioned for more than a year, are much appreciated as always.

                  1. re: squid kun

                    Ah yes I did, and I stayed in Tulsa for six months after that, and by the time I got back to New York I'd totally forgotten about it. So when I prowled around the mall after my first meal at Chengdu Heaven I thought I'd made a new discovery. And I think I found some different dishes. I want to try that spicy blood thing. I noticed the photo on the wall and also saw it in that old post. For anyone who hasn't read that old post yet, it has translations and explanations of most of the menu. (They didn't have photos then.)

                    1. re: Brian S

                      I might be able to check the place out tomorrow, God willing. I need to get my food Chinese packet together for menu reading. I can only read Szechuan dishes! Any advice?

                        1. re: Xiao Yang

                          The biáng biáng miàn has always been my favorite item at this place. I didn't know what it was called until now (I'd just been pointing to the photo). Thanks.

                        2. re: JFores

                          Here are a couple of more useful links. In the first one, you can lick on the picture to get to the next page:

                          http://xian.qq.com/a/20060814/000055.htm
                          http://www.ncic.ac.cn/~majie/xian/xia...

                          Here is a gallery with english translations of some items I put together soem tome ago. Click on and photo to emlarge it. Unfortunately the original source cited has gone 404. ("You cannot step into the same river twice...."):

                          http://eatingchinese.org/photogallery...

                          1. re: Xiao Yang

                            "You can lick on the picture"? How ChowHoundy!!

                            1. re: fredid

                              LOL, your mouse can, anyway.

                              Acutally, I probably can on my touch-screen UMPC, but I haven't tried it.

                  2. re: surly

                    I've fallen in love with this stall since returning to NY for a visit. I had penciled in Chengdu Tian Fu but they were closed when I got there at 8:45, while the Xi'an place is open until 10:00, and I haven't looked back. (At any rate, I have reasonable options for close-to-the-bone Sichuan cusine in the SF Bay Area, not so for Xi'an cuisine.)

                    A minor point: the "Chinese hamburgers" would be called rou jia mo, rather than rou bing (which are typically fully enclosed). I've yet to try the pork version, but have downed several of the lamb ones and one beef (which, if anything, was even better spiced than the lamb ones). Best damn $2.50 burger in town!

                    The biang biang mian is great, too, and the lamb noodles beat the heck out of the lamb soup at the Shanxi knife-cut noodle place across the hall.