There is so much good food in Xi’an, it’s hard to resist yet another posting on its delicacies. Today’s foodie-fest reviews two celebratory dinners and a noodle interlude. The first feast occurred just over a week ago, when the students and post-docs in Professor Chen Yi-ping’s lab took me out for a fish grill the night before I left for the panda road trip (summarized in the previous three-part post on Walking in the Footsteps of the Giant Panda [I, II, III]). The second feast was Monday night, when the whole lab took me out for a farewell lamb barbecue at a local farm-to-table restaurant. In between, I finally encountered the mythical biang-biang noodle.
The fish feast was at Tanyu (charcoal fish), in the Qujiang section of Xi’an. We started with a range of appetizers, including (clockwise from top center) fried spring rolls, mixed Sichuan pickled vegetables, cucumber with garlic, mung-bean noodles in chili sauce, mixed fruit (watermelon, grapes, and dragon-fruit), and yam with blueberry sauce.
These delights were followed by a range of small plates, including (clockwise from top) roast corn (which is challenging to eat with chopsticks!), needle mushrooms in garlic, jiao zi (dumplings), roasted scallops with more garlic, and “ciba with double taste” (fried sticky-rice cakes) (click on any of the images to start a slide show).
Then, the pièces de résistance (or should that be pesces de résistance?):
The flounder, smothered in chilis, was served with tofu, konjac, wood-ear fungus, and soybeans.
The catfish, which provided a respite from the chili’ed flounder, was cooked with daikon, lotus root, and cauliflower.
Both were kept nicely warm at the table with under-the-tray flames, which kept the sauce boiling as we added more vegetables (click on either fish for a larger image).
A palate-cleansing mung-bean jelly, sweetened with molasses, rounded out this fabulous feast, and a fine time was had by all!
Shi yang nong zhuang
For the Xi’an farewell dinner, we went to a local farm-to-table restaurant that specializes in lamb barbecue.
This dinner featured a variety of small plates, a couple now familiar, the others new and unique. The usual suspects included the tián qi greens (Radix pseudopanax) and cucumbers (clockwise from top left), whereas the new ones included “wild grass” (unclassifiable shredded greens with sesasme seeds and chilis), black tofu, donkey-meat (really!) with dipping sauce, a tray of chilis, peanuts, and cauliflower, and spicy shredded chayote (click on any of the vegetables below to start the slide show). I found that a tasty combination was made by wrapping the slice of donkey around one of the big green chilis before dipping it in the sauce.
The featured dish was a barbecued fresh rack of lamb, which had been pre-ordered because of the time needed to cook it.
Chopsticks really don’t work on such a rack, and the knives – a rare sight at a Chinese table – were easily bypassed in favor of gloved hands. Dig in!
Ever since I had visited the Terra Cotta Army two weeks ago (see also On Monumentality and Sketches of China), I had been on the hunt for biang-biang noodles. These ultra-wide, lasagna-sized noodles are a Xi’an specialty, and perhaps more importantly, are described by what must be the most complicated character in the Chinese language. Su cui-cui and I had passed a biang-biang shop at the Terra Cotta Army museum, but we’d already had lunch, and another one seemed just too much at the time.
After a Sunday afternoon visit to the most exceptional Stele Forest/Beilin Museum in the center of Xi’an (more on that in a post to come), we walked out of the walled city and down the road for 15 minutes to what I was assured was the most famous biang-biang noodle shop in Xi’an city:
Here, we had classic biang-biang and a plate of cold mixed vegetables – a perfectly-sized meal of outstanding quality! (click on either for larger views)
Thanks to Professor Chen Yi-ping, his post-docs, and graduate students – and a special shout-out of thanks to Chen Dong – for hosting a great visit at the Institute of Earth Environment!
Next up… Beijing!