ZJ and I have a handful of places we frequent, partly because of convenience, menu items, or satiating my 吃货ness.
Just outside the north gate of the old campus, this mutton and bread soup (Pleco’s translation) is a quintessential part of the Shaanxi cuisine. If you’ve ever visited Xi’an, then it’s likely you enjoyed it at the Muslim Quarter. The dish consists of a succulent broth with vermicelli noodles, green onion, and a few slices of mutton (think heavier than a chicken-based broth, yet lighter than a stew-based broth) where pieces of 馍, the Chinese cousin of pita without the pita’s lightness, are added either broken by hand or a machine into bite-size pieces. It’s typically served with a side of 糖蒜, aka pickled garlic (the best part) 面汤, and if we’re lucky the restaurant has coriander in stock. 面汤 and 羊肉泡馍 tastes great with the addition of 香菜, coriander. We like this place for both its convenience and the 泡馍’s flavor. ZJ rides my bike (long story) to and from work; this place allows us to remain vigilant and keep the bike within eyesight. ZJ easily gets to work as the north gate of the old campus intersects with 长安南路, the northern part of Chang’an Lu, the road that takes you to the city center. ZJ, having biked for more than half a year, can make it from 雁塔校区, the district we live in, to 市区南门里 in about 15 minutes.
I wrote about these noodles in a previous entry. We like this place as it’s around the corner from ParkQin, where ZJ works. We also normally eat 凉菜, cold dishes there as well. I generally have a hankering for a steaming bowl of these dry (as in no soup) noodle pieces once a week. The best part of devouring these noodles is you pair it with raw garlic. The process is you eat a few pieces of noodles followed by taking a small bite of garlic and repeat. They also serve you noodle broth, 面汤, however, I’m a picky eater and don’t really care for their 面汤; I prefer to inhale 冰峰, also known as Ice Peak, a local orange soda (no not Fanta-like!). We used to eat here more regularly when we both still had a bicycle at our disposal.
(A bit off topic, but the last two trips downtown, I took the 603 bus and ZJ biked, yet for most of the ride, we were keeping pace. The 603 is a double-decker where I prefer to stay on the first level; on several occasions, on the second level, I’ve felt every jerky motion the driver made. I stood near a window on the right side, with the bike lane in my peripheral vision. At least twice, ZJ and I’s eyes met and a smile crept upon our faces. At the 韦二街 intersection, he motioned for me to move upstairs, and I motioned my refusal back.)
There are several maocai places that constitute our haunts. They are all located on 师大路, the road adjacent to the old campus’s south and main gates. This stretch of road is lined with shops, restaurants, cafes all catering to the university students attending 西外和师大。Maocai, similar to 小火锅或火锅, mini hot pot or hot pot, allows you to select your ingredients and have the restaurant cook it for you. Some of the places allow you to mix meat and veg, while others strictly forbid this, or even charge you more for meat. The 冒菜 place we both prefer is a bit pricey, but you get an incredibly large bowl, as the expectation is that two or three people will eat out of one bowl. ZJ and I don’t follow this kind suggestion because he likes chili, and I prefer the subtleness of 三鲜. Irregardless of which 冒菜 place we haunt, the month of April in Xi’an has seen quirky weather. Bouts of rain and winter-like cold, followed by days of warmth with the sun trying her best to make an appearance: in other words, perfect maocai weather.
西安外国语大学雁塔校区学生餐厅, Xi’an International Studies University’s Old Campus Student Canteen
At least two to three times a week, we eat at the old campus’ student canteen. There are two canteens; we tend to frequent the smaller of the two as, surprisingly, it offers more variety. The selection includes 包子饺子菠菜面炒面锅贴冒菜菜和米饭 amongst other delicacies. I tend to gravitate towards the potstickers, dumplings, maocai, stuffed steamed buns or chow mein. I especially like the dumplings as I can get Chinese leeks and eggs, Chinese leeks and meat, celery and meat, lotus root and meat, veggie, onion and meat; all of which taste as good as our previous dumpling haunt, proudly referred to as the ‘Dumpling hole in the wall’ place. The dumpling window in the canteen, for awhile, sold a tapas-like plate of 凉菜, consisting of peanuts, lotus root, and spinach. On average a meal in the canteen, for two, costs 20块, or yuan. Six yuan equals, give or take, a dollar. We recently discovered lurking near the canteen, in the same building as the campus supermarket, a 刀削面, best described as knife-diced noodles, place opened, replacing a restaurant serving cooked-to-order dishes with rice which took over the space after a western restaurant closed up shop. Again, eating in the canteen allows us to keep an eye on the bike and grab a quick meal before I see ZJ off to work.
The last stop on the local haunt culinary tour is the three musketeers of Shaanxi: 冰峰肉夹馍和凉皮, Ice Peak, Chinese meat sandwich, and cold steamed noodles. Serving up Shaanxi cuisine, weijialiangpi restaurants are well-known in Xi’an by locals. They serve specialties such as roujiamo and liangpi; the former translated as a Chinese hamburger or meat sandwich served in the same pita-like bread found in 羊肉泡馍，and the latter cordially known as cold steamed noodles. 凉皮, the general term for 米皮和面皮, is derived from rice or flour respectively. They’re not really served cold, more like room temperature, and I like to get the majiang, sesame paste version. We don’t always frequent one of the aforementioned franchises, but also visit smaller shops including one on 师大路 that serves up good 麻酱凉皮和煎包, sesame paste cold steamed noodles and fried stuffed buns. I normally eat vegetable stuffed buns and ZJ chows down on 肉饼, or meat pie. All the locations vary but it’s served with any combination of the following: bean sprouts, cucumbers, broccoli, and mianjin. Most locations also offer porridge, 稀饭/粥, and I’m a fan of the pumpkin variety. Much to my own dismay, I seem to not be the only pumpkin porridge enthusiast and more often than not, by dinner time, especially on the weekends, this selection is sold out. I sometimes gulp down a 冰峰, but in cold months you’ll see me putting up with whatever porridge is available on the menu. The Chinese don’t often have a traditional beverage with their meal, instead they opt to finish the meal with soup, porridge, or even a simple bowl of 面汤.
I didn’t mention the local haunts in any particular order, but if you have visited Xi’an or plan to, I suggest you try all of the items I mentioned. 羊肉泡馍 can be found in the Muslim Quarter, 刘记揪面片 and a very good spinach noodles place is situated on 大车家巷, and downtown has both 刘老三 or the Weijialiangpi franchise where you can enjoy Shaanxi cuisine including the ‘three musketeers.’ Frankly, any noodles are a good choice, as my students and the locals will tell you, “Shaanxi is the noodle capital.”
What do some of your local haunts serve that keep you coming back for more?