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Xi'an Cuisine

DylanLK | | Apr 3, 2010 02:26 PM

There's a famous essay about Xi'an street food by Jia Pingwa, who was born in the Shaanxi countryside but later settled in Xi'an... Jia Pingwa, who writes about street food in beautiful cod-classical Chinese, who treats street food, 小吃 xiǎochī, as an inseparable part of the ancient capital's culture. When Jia Pingwa wrote the essay, there was a perception of Xi'an food, of all northwestern food, maybe, as torn up bread in a bowl of lamb soup-- I mean, that perception still exists... but.... His essay begins:

"They say southerners are meticulous and northerners are crude. If that's true, then northwesterners are even more crude, even more rough. Their language is thick, rich with falling tones. Men are swarthy and the women are thick. And the food! Vibrant; light on the sugar but heavy on the salt. Ah, this blessed land. Shaanxi! North: the yellow loess plateaus. In the middle: the Wei River plains. Heading south, the Qinling Mountains begin to rise. Looking over the vast banquet of Shaanxi cuisine, most of it seems to come from the palace kitchens of earlier ages, the estates of the Tang bureaucrats, and then from the tables of the commoners, and then the minority peoples of the province add a few dishes, and we get a few of the famous dishes from the city restaurants. It looks like the food of the north, but there are a few differences. Of course, in my hometown (a place that I've played at writing into my fiction), we never saw any great banquets or ate extravagant dishes. But as I've wandered around the province, I've eaten xiaochi like an anthropologist collecting folk songs. Just like folk songs, these xiaochi let you understand a little bit about where they came from. So, as I've got a moment of free time and can put together a sentence or two, I ventured to write down what little I know about each dish. Think of it as an unpaid advertisement, and I'll think of it as a chance to relive the experience of sitting down to eat each dish, a chance to see if I can recall the particular flavor of all those minor delicacies."

Everytime I read that, I wish I was in Xi'an.... The only real deal Xi'an place in Vancouver is in the Richmond Public Market, run by a man from Xi'an, named Mr. Duan. Under the counter of his stall is an article from a Chinese newspaper, with the headline, 《吃了就不想西安了》, eat it and you won't miss Xi'an anymore.

There's a lineup some days, people coming for 凉皮儿 liáng pí'r, flat noodles served bare bones Xi'an-style with mashed garlic and vinegar, people coming for 大饼 dàbǐng, people coming for the hundred variations on 拉面 lāmiàn. I'm going to say that Xi'an Cuisine has the best pulled noodles in the city, perfect texture. 肉夹馍 ròujiāmó is another big seller, too, of course, but we've covered that already, right? There are some weeks where I eat ròujiāmó for lunch three or four days in a row.

There's a super extensive menu, but the real obscure things (obscure for Vancouver) aren't available all the time. Stuff like, 油茶 yóuchá, a kind of sweet porridge made from toasted flour and hemp seeds, Mr. Duan says it's easy enough to make but nobody asks for it except the occasional Xi'aner, so it's only available very, very, very rarely. My favorite thing to get there is another semi-rare item, the 粉蒸肉 fěnzhēngròu, pork steamed with rice flour, with puffy bread to stuff the meat into-- it's available most Saturdays and the occasional Sunday.

And, yo, I even dusted off my Finepix and took some flicks.