Heading northwest from Chengdu one reaches a city called Xi'an. It is most famed for the discovery of the marvellous Terracotta Army, thousands of buried terracotta soldiers set out in battle formation ready to guard the soul of China's first Emperor Qin Shu Chang - which is a thorughly impressive site. Archealogy aside there's also lots to please the intrepid gastronome. Xi'an is home to a large Hui (Chinese muslim) population and whilst they may not differ genetically from the Han Chinese a visit to the Muslim quarter shows their diet does, not least through the Chinese staple meat of pork. I've heard it said that the pork issue was the biggest barrier in China to the spread of Islam and with its central place in Chinese cuisine, and the importance of cuisine here, I can well believe it. The religion spread pretty well in these parts though so in Xi'an the sheep plays a big role. I'm a it behind on the blogging so will have to do another list style post, I'm sure I'll do another format some day soon though.
Piao - I may have the name wrong here. Dough is rolled into a ball and squashed flat leaving a spiral of oily layers which are cooked on a griddle. To serve they're brushed with oil and sprinkled with chili and cumin before being warmed over coal.
Chicken Doner - it seems the humble kebab gets everywhere
obivously in the name of research I had to try one and it came in a small, round pitta-like bread
Chinese Hamburger - someone was eating these at a little noodle shop so I had to give the point order a go. I looked out back to see how they were made a saw a lady scoop a couple of slices of pork belly from a big saucepan and beat them into submission with a cleaver before filling the bread. Obviously not from the Muslim quarter, seriously tasty though. It was only on the way out I noticed 'Chinese hamburger 3.0 rmb' scribbled in marker on the noodle menu.
Rouchuan (Meat Kebabs) - all over the Muslim quarter boys barbecued lamb, beef and mutton kebabs over charcoal. They tended to be flavoured with chili and cumin.
Deep Fried Beef - Fingers of beef were battered and fried. The batter contained the standard Western Chinese seasonings of chili and Sichuan pepper but a nod to the Middle East saw the addition of cinnamon and maybe some cumin. A bag of this fresh from the hot oil made great finger food whilst exploring the market.
Fenzhengrou - the Lonely Planet describes this as mutton fried with wheat but it appeared to be steamed instead and tasted like a suet pudding without the gravy. Tasty but seriously stodgy and ribsticking stuff.
Fried Filled Flatbreads - two flatbreads were stuffed with meat and Chinese chives, sealed around the edge then deep shallow fried. Crispy, oily, salty, tasty...
Liver - I'm still struggling to believe this was for human consumption but the effort in displaying it would suggest it was. It smelt and was covered in flies but people were buying it anyway. I didn't join them.
Majiang Liangpi - this local noodle speciality consisted of cold wheat noodles covered with sesame paste and chili oil. I found the sesame paste (basically tahini) far too overpowering, much preferring the black vinegar and chili or sweet bean paste and chili I'd had on other cold noodles.
Sausage Balls on a Stick - not too traditional but processed frankfurter-esque balls of sausage (pink meat paste sausages are really popular over here) were given the chili and cumin treatment and barbecued. Naughty but tasty nonetheless.
Rice noodles with vinegar and chili - these have been blogged before but this enamel bowlful was a particularly good one.
Sheep Feet - I gave one of these a try and in my mind a poor immitation of its porcine cousin, the tendon was nice but sheep skin just doesn't have the thick, gelatinous beauty of pig skin.
To Fu Breakfast - this was a delight. Soft tofu (the same used in the sweet to fu fa if you've had that) was swamped in a thin soy and chili broth or a gloopy mushroom soup. A fried dough stick completed what was a great start to the day on a Xi'an street corner.
Unknown Rice Flour Jelly Dish - Cubes noodle, basically, fried with something yellow and chili. Served everywhere but rather bland and samey when eating a whole plateful.
Yangrou Paomo - this bread soup is possibly Xi'an biggest contribution to China's culinary scene. Pitta bread is torn into a bowl with some rice noodles and sliced mutton, the whole lots is covered in boiling stock. The result had a strangely English feel to it not too far removed from a stew and dumplings. Very good.
Sugar blowing - not a Xi'an speciality but worthy of being on the internet. This man took minutes to transform balls of caramel into amazing animal lollies. As amazing as they were though I didn't fancy purchasing a sugar case full of his breath.