A radical change between my two experiences in Xi’an was in food. In 1981 there were few restaurants and even for home cooks, the selection of ingredients was limited. When I returned in 2005, residents of the ancient city seemed to be making up for the culinary experiences they had been deprived of during the hard times of the late 20th century. Their exuberant cuisine could be sampled on the streets or in exclusive restaurants where willowy silk-clad waitresses brought dishes garnished with orchids.
One of our most memorable meals in 1982 happened when our student, Aaron Li, took us for yang ro pao mo—Xi’an lamb stew—at the one restaurant in town that served it. Now you can find restaurants all over town that serve the dish, as well as other local specialties: spicy noodles, “Xi’an hamburger,” dumplings, and soups seasoned with fiery red peppers and tongue-numbing Chinese peppercorns. The food is addictive and I try to replicate it at home when I can.
Xi’an cuisine has been in the U.S. for a few years, courtesy of Jason Wang, who started a little chain of restaurants in New York called Xi’an Famous Foods. http://xianfoods.com/
I eat there whenever I go to New York—the noodles are to die for but the Yang ro pao mo falls short of the true Xi’an experience. It’s definitely worth a visit. And just this week Jason Wang appeared on the public radio show The Splendid Table. http://www.splendidtable.org/story/xian-famous-foods-bringing-a-little-known-chinese-cuisine-to-new-york-city