For food lovers, Xi’an is all about lunch

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Life - By MIKE PETERS

Ev­ery­one I know loves to visit Xi’an. The Ter­ra­cotta War­riors are a must-see whether you are Chi­nese or a for­eigner, and at­trac­tions like the Big Goose Pagoda and the still-in­tact city walls are a treat to ex­plore by foot or bi­cy­cle.

But the thought of go­ing to Xi’an makes me smile for a dif­fer­ent rea­son: It makes me hun­gry. For me, no trip to the fa­bled gate­way to the old Silk Road would be com­plete— or worth­while — un­less I could spend at least half a day roam­ing the Mus­lim quar­ter. The war­ren­like streets be­tween the drum tower and the city’s GreatMosque have been home to the Hui com­mu­nity for cen­turies.

This is a street-food par­adise, where rouchuan (ke­babs) are ubiq­ui­tous, cheap and de­li­cious. The ven­dors are mostly too busy and too re­served to be shout­ing at passers-by — this is not your big-city Silk Mar­ket — but they’d have plenty to shout about if they were so in­clined. The lady onmy left has gor­geous dried fruits, in­clud­ing beau­ti­ful dough­nut-shaped per­sim­mons lined up in rows — the sort that car­a­van driv­ers head­ing for Kash­gar snacked on cen­turies ago.

The fel­low at the next stall is serv­ing up bowls of cold noo­dles in se­same sauce as fast as he can dish them up, while other ven­dors have a huge va­ri­ety of can­dies and pas­tries that evoke a Turk­ish bazaar.

It’s a chal­lenge to keep my feet mov­ing as I pass these: I have a sweet tooth that prompts me to stop for a nib­ble at ev­ery one. Most ir­re­sistible are the stalls where se­same candy is made on the spot.

This usu­ally in­volved two or more young fel­lows with big wooden mal­lets, which I had not pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered to be part of a candy-maker’s art. But there is an art to pound­ing se­same in­sen­si­ble: The chore­og­ra­phy that keeps the ham­mer­ers from hit­ting each other, the rhyth­mic BAM! BAM! BAM! echo­ing down the street, and fi­nally the de­li­cious sweets that emerge af­ter the se­same paste is pounded into chewy blocks.

There are plenty of sit-down restaurants too. You’ll want to stop in at least one for a bowl of yan­grou paomo, the dis­tinc­tive soup that sends the aroma of spicy boiled lamb drift­ing through the neigh­bor­hood. It’s made by crum­bling a flat loaf of bread into a bowl and then adding noo­dles, mut­ton and broth. I like to get it at the small­est eater­ies, be­cause the cook is usu­ally wrestling a big wok over an equally big fire right out front, in­stead of be­hind the din­ing-room wall.

This may be hum­ble fare, but like at a five-star restau­rant, some­times pre­sen­ta­tion is all.

This weekend marks the start of Ra­madan, when faith­ful Mus­lims ab­stain from food dur­ing day­light hours. That will slow down the usual hub­bub of lunchtime. But you can ex­pect the in­nate joy of Da­maishi Jie and its ad­ja­cent al­ley­ways to burst into life as the sun goes down — and the pi­ous come to­gether to break their fast.

MIKE PETERS / CHINA DAILY

Road­side shops at the Hui com­mu­nity in Xi’an, Shaanxi prov­ince, are a street-food par­adise.

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