Xi'an may be best known as the home of the Terracotta Warriors, and all those who make it out to the city's outskirts marvel at the thousands-strong clay army, silently standing guard over the tomb of the ancient ruler of the Middle Kingdom. It's a sobering and impressive sight but when visitors head back to Xi'an, their minds full of historical musings, their bellies pull them swiftly back to the present with a resounding rumble, and thoughts turn to matters of the present. Namely, where to head for dinner?
The answer is an easy one: Muslim Street. A stretch of bustling market stalls and street vendors, open-front halal butchers, carts filled with all kinds of delicious sweets, dried fruits and nuts, or smoking BBQs. With the scent of freshly baking bread and roasting meat filling the air, the quandary of where to eat quickly becomes what to eat.
On that note, here are our top 5 not-to-be-missed Muslim Street eats....
Yángròu pàomó (羊肉泡馍; crumbled pancake in lamb stew)
A Xi'an classic and a great winter warmer this is a delicious lamb stew, served with unleavened bread which is crumbled into the dish to soak up the soup. Traditionally the diner will first break the bread into an empty bowl, depending on how how hungry they are, and then the chef will ladle in the stew. Unless you speak Chinese, you'll likely find they prepare it on your behalf, so you just have to slurp it up. Add pickled garlic and chili to taste. (RMB 20-25 a bowl)
Ròujiāmó (肉夹馍; meat-stuffed pita bread)
Xi'an's answer to the hamburger; slow-cooked, juicy lamb or pork is chopped up and served in a freshly baked fluffy round flatbread, perfect for eating on the go. This popular dish has been exported throughout China and variations using different blends of cumin and chili, or finely chopped vegetables exist, but nothing beats the melt-in-your-mouth originals cooked up on Muslim Street! (RMB 5-10)
Kǎo yángròu, Kǎo náng ( 烤羊肉, 烤馕; Roast lamb and naan bread)
There's nothing better than a slab of freshly cooked, fragrant lamb that just falls of the bone. Whole roast lamb is another classic of the Xinjang cuisine that dominates the fare here, and is a carnivore's delight. You'll see the whole roasted beasts on display outside any number of small restaurants toward the south end of the street. Simply sidle up and see which one takes your fancy, order as much as you can eat and go prehistoric with a round of warm nang bread alongside. Ugg.
Májiàng liángpí (麻酱凉皮; sesame paste with cold noodles)
Though more of a summer favorite, this dish of cold noodles can be found all year round in Xi'an. Thick, translucent wheat or rice flour noodles are mixed with garlic, ginger, pepper, sauce, vinegar, bean sprouts, capsicum powder, salt, finely chopped or grated cucumber, caraway, chicken stock and sesame oil. A final handful of noodles dipped in chili oil is often added for that little bit of extra lip-tingling goodness. (RMB 10-15)
Shìbǐng (柿饼; dried persimmons)
A real treat for those with a sweet tooth, these are made from persimmons, a fruit that is common in China but less well-known in the West. When fresh, persimmons look a bit like a hamburger-shaped tomato but here they are dried and stuffed with a paste made of beans, sesame paste, rose-petals, walnuts, osmanthus sauce or walnuts with sugar, then fried to make a sticky sweet snack. Expect to pay about RMB 1 per piece.