Xi’An, 2012

The 9th and last full day of my time in China. We arrived at Xi An train station about 9:30/10am. The last Chinese breakfast was especially “豐富” [feng fu], or “rich”. That is, rich in quantity and in variety. Bok choy, peanuts, fried egg, stewed spicy tofu, woodear with red and green bell peppers, pickled mustard “榨菜” [zha cai], fresh cucumber, pickled shredded daikon, congee, and Chinese sopapillas. I had no idea there were such things as Chinese sopapillas. Fried goodness on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside. The congee served on the New Orient Express is still some of the best I’ve had anywhere–perfect ratio of water to sticky rice. Oh and the powdered milk too!

There was this cute baby when we were walking around, but when I tried to snap a picture of her, she burst out crying and everyone on the street turned to stare. Whoops. We first stopped at the ancient city wall of old Xi’An ‘西安城墙’ [Xi An cheng chiang]. It’s one of the oldest Chinese city walls and covers an area of 14 sq. miles. It’s pretty much been around since 194 BCE!

The tour guides gave us about 45 minutes to “explore”: the chance to ride around the city wall on a tiny golf cart. I wanted to bike, but our tour guides said it would take up too much time, considering how huge the city wall was. I and a couple other tour members ended up power-walking our way down the brick and mortar city wall paths. It’s actually a pretty nice place to study, if you can find a quiet enough spot.

So Xi An is actually split into two parts, “old” Xi An and “modern” Xi An. Modern Xi An lies outside the city wall. Inside is “old” Xi An. Old houses, and a vibrant street market scene. The skyscrapers faraway in the background are part of “modern” Xi An.

Xi An is famous for its…flour foods? I’m not quite sure how to translate it. In Chinese, we call it “麵食” [mian shi]–which can mean anything from dumplings to noodles to buns. Our meal was very “classic” Xi An food.

#1: Bathing in all that lovely chili oil, is “莜面” [you mian], or oat noodles. Nutty flavor and slightly rougher, grainier texture than regular noodles. Like oats. I thought they were tasty!

#2: Leek dumplings, which were quite delicious but not even close to the best I’ve had.

#3: Buckwheat noodles, “蕎麥麵” [chiao mai mian]. Think of thicker and stronger-flavored soba noodles. The noodles we had were “涼拌” [liang ban], or “cold-mixed” in some soy sauce, black vinegar “烏醋” [wu chu], and fresh cilantro. This was perhaps my 2nd favorite dish of the day.

#4: Something like rolled-out and randomly-cut pieces of potato flour, boiled really quickly, and tossed with some cilantro and red peppers. Looks and sounds weird, but tasted great.

#5: “Biang biang mian”. Formerly eaten as a peasant’s dish in rural Shaanxi, it’s now one of the most popular dishes served in the Shaanxi province. It still remains a “local” dish in the sense that you can’t really get it anywhere else other than Shaanxi. The “biang” (pictured on the right) is the most difficult word in Chinese, with 57 strokes. Most computers don’t even recognize it! Heck, some Chinese dictionaries don’t even have an entry for this word. Biang biang noodles are thick and belt-like in shape. A good amount of bite to them too, which I like. Tossed with fresh green scallions, Chinese cabbage, chilis, chili powder, and vinegar. Sour, spicy, and absolutely my favorite dish from lunch. I think I had two bowls of the stuff. My stomach was roiling from all the chili oil and my mouth on fire.