Culinary post from China: Xi’an and Luoyang

Note: This is a blog post about my six-month journey across India and China. To find out more about why I went on this trip, please read, Next book: From Kerala to Shaolin. In the interest of clarity, I am not publishing this “from China”, but Singapore, where I am back now.

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Biang biang mian

This post is a culinary addendum to Letter from China: Xi’an and the road to Shaolin

I go to Xi’an, that ancient crossroads of people and trade, expecting some of the best food on this trip; and it doesn’t disappoint. The Muslim quarter, in particular, is a veritable treasure trove of bites and eats. I do, however, recommend wandering off the main alley (pictured) and exploring some of the side lanes—more locals, greater variety, better prices.

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For something contemporary, I also quite liked Shi Da Lu (师大路), a lively, hip street in the university area, filled with little cafes and international restaurants (“Restaurant”in many languages pictured).

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By contrast, I visit Luoyang, the last big city before Shaolin, not expecting very much. Instead, I am pleasantly surprised by some of the best food of the trip. Unlike some more elaborate cuisines, like Shanghainese and Sichuan, I feel this Henan food is more like simple, country fare. Minimal seasoning, fuss-free preparations. One of the highlights was the so-called Luoyang boiled food banquet (photos below).

All in all, we are suitably spoiled before we head to Shaolin, that culinary desert.

Xi’an:

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Muslim quarter

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Yang Rou Pao Mo (羊肉泡馍), crumbled unleavened bread in mutton stew, a Xi’an specialty

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The freshest, crunchiest pickled vegetables we had on the trip

Sandwich

Rou Jia Mo (肉夹馍), sort of like a gyros sandwich

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Yummy cake

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Can’t resist goat’s feet. Not as good as the paya we had in Hyderabad

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I love persimmons and pomegranates. Had some amazing ones on this lag leg in China. This is one of the more interesting. Shi Zi Bing (柿子饼), a bean-stuffed pomegranate fritter.

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Nothing like a good goat’s heart

sweets

People in Xi’an love to lick and munch on these sweet sticks

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Biang biang mian, a simple homemade noodle that is tossed in a sauce or stew that varies from one restaurant to the next. There is something irresistible about the savoury chewiness of the fresh noodles; it joins the sweet-spicy tian shui mian of Sichuan and chilli ban mian of Malaya as one of my favourite fresh noodle dishes

Biang Biang actual noodles

My second bowl of biang biang mian is very different, much more like a stew. Hearty and wholesome

Biang character

Biang water character

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The character for “biang” is the most complex in the Chinese language, with 57 strokes. For more on this, see Letter from China: Xi’an and the road to Shaolin.

Luoyang:

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The above tofu soup is a Luoyang specialty. It is perfect for a cold morning.

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Another breakfast treat, a rather chewy omelet

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And another one: fried bun stuffed with meat and vege

noodles

A regular noodle soup

mutton soup

This is a variant on Xi’an’s yang rou pao mo. Lamb broth with shreds of unleavened bread. Dip the bread, and slurp like noodles.

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Snack food everywhere in Luoyang

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Night market in the old town, Luoyang

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Fish

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The closest thing to roomali roti I’ve seen in China. Was too full to try it

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A Chinese pork terrine

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Pig

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Smorgasbord

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The Luoyang boiled food banquet (see here). The four of us attempted only 8 of the 24 dishes. A superb meal.

Here is a short description from YesChinaTour.com:

“Together with Longmen Grottoes and Luoyang Peony, Luoyang Boiled Food Banquet are reputed as the three most famous things in Luoyang. As a traditional banquet, Luoyang Boiled Food Banquet has a history of more than 1,000 years and is regarded as the “Top Banquet under the Heaven”. It is originated from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Dishes served during this banquet are brought one after another, like flowing water. The banquet is in total 24 dishes, including 8 cold dishes and 16 hot dishes. All the dishes are related with soups and are served one after another, like flowing water, therefore, it was called Liushuixi in Chinese.” (See here for a fuller description.)

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Meat and fungus stew

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This was the only sweet, fruity dish of the lot; and the only one I didn’t like.

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Pork and mushrooms

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Fried flour/ dough.

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Shredded radish

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Pork belly; lots of star anise

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Minced pork

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Pork fritters in soup

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