30 January 2009

Xi'an - Where the Food is At

One of my biggest general disappointments about China was the marked lack of street food. I know that Taiwan isn’t China (heck, I’m super opposed to those politics and am all about a free and independent Taiwan) but I practically lived off street food there so I was expecting something in China. In Beijing I gather that there is a food street that’s all street food and carts-but we never managed to drag ourselves out there. Harbin there was just that awesome lady with the cotton candy, and in Shanghai we didn’t find anything either. Xi’an however, was a goldmine! Not just for street food but for food in general.

Xi’an is famous for its dumplings. I “heart” dumplings. We went to one of Xi’an’s more famous dumpling restaurants for an 18 course dumpling feast. It started with appetizers which we were some veg and what we were pretty sure was meat.

The we got small bowls of soup

Then came the parade of dumplings. 18 courses sounds like a lot but there were only two of each kind of dumpling so it wasn’t necessarily the most filling feast I’ve ever had.

There were all kinds of dumplings. The first picture is of sweet flaky dumplings (served cold) that had maybe and apricot filling? Very yummy. Almost all the rest very savory dumplings of one kind or another with pork, shrimp, chicken, egg, vegetable fillings that were curried, spicy, bland…a whole spectrum of taste. Some were fantabulous. Others were kind of yucky. My absolute favorites were another sweet dumpling. The dough was brown and they were shaped to resemble walnuts and filled with a sweet walnut paste. After our feast we ordered extra of the walnut dumplings. Apparently they come two different ways…steamed and baked. They were ever so much better steamed.

After the dumplings came yet another soup with teeny tiny little dumplings. The soup was not good. I have no clue what was going on with the broth but…ew.

We also hit the mother load of killer street food in, of all places, the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an. If you ever get a chance to visit Xi’an the Muslim market is a must visit. Very centrally located in the city near the bell tower, the Muslim Quarter covers several blocks of the city and is full of twisty turny allies, street carts full of food and goods, and shops. It was one of the most fun places we visited.

Food pictures courtesy again of Lauren.

This is a sticky, sweet rice pudding-type dessert that they put together and stick on long toothpicks. Yummy.

Dried fruits. Not all of which were identifyable.

Meat on a stick is always a wonderful thing. The real treat here was the bread which was coated in some spice mix then quickly fired on a skillet. We ate a lot of the bread.

Yet more meat. Meat just sits around outside all day long.

Eggs. Maybe? We didn't eat these. Probably wise on our part.

There were also these glorious sweet potato patty thngs (of which we sadly have no pictures). We have no idea what was inside the patty. There looked to be about a dozen flavor varieties of which I could only identify two...but they all tasted the same. Which wasn't necessarily a bad a thing since they inside tasted like a mix of walnuts, brown sugar and butter. Also awesomely delicious were these, I guess like a donut on a stick. They came three to a stick, were a shell of crispy sweet fried dough and on the inside were fruit compotes and what I'm pretty sure was more walnut/sugar/buttery goodness.

One section of the market was a long covered alley full of only goods shops: scrolls, carvings, clothes, textiles, statues, games, trinkets, jewelry, luggage, toys, ornaments, kitsch…you name it, it was there. Just about the only thing that the Frommer’s guide got right was their description of the place calling shopping in that section a blood sport with you as the prey. Every step we took was dogged by a vendor yelling to us to buy this or that. The great part was that bargaining here was so easy because if vendor A wouldn’t give you a good price then vendor B across the way would!

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