Written by Brian Bergey
We all love our desserts, but most of us are probably tired of spending 50RMB for a poor version of our favorite slice of cake from a nearby coffee shop. Local desserts often look better than they taste and fall short in any comparison to our Western favorites. This month, we searched the city for the best local desserts that Xi’an has to offer.
锦祥斋 (Jin Xiang Zhai) is hidden on a quiet alley within the city wall. This Muslim family has been making local treats for over 70 years and operating this shop for 20. At first glance, the treat selection is very similar to what you see in many other dessert shops: boxes filled with giant plastic bags that have somewhat appealing treats that resemble baked goods. We’ve all tried them and, for the most part, have probably been disappointed.
After speaking with the women who prepare the desserts fresh each day, we learned that they pride themselves in making their goods entirely by hand, without the use of chemicals or preservatives. They encouraged us to keep the desserts outside of the fridge, but eat them quickly so they are fresh. These unusual instructions intrigued us, and we couldn’t wait to sample their selection.
The primary ingredient is freshly made jujube paste. Used in many of their desserts, it resembles a dark filling very similar to a berry pie filling, but less sweet with an almost rhubarb-like kick. In other desserts, they use other local flavors such as walnuts and rose.
The women were kind enough to let us sample as many desserts as we liked and they packed separate bags for all of our favorites. The first must-try is their Lv Dou Gao, translated as Green Bean Cake, which is a staple all over China. Theirs is by far the best we have ever tried and put the ones on Muslim Street to shame. They offer two varieties; plain or swirled with jujube paste. The second are round pastries that are filled with a very sweet walnut and rose paste, kind of like a thick walnut butter. Finally, they offer a croissant-shaped wheat flour pastry filled so completely with jujube paste that you can see it seeping through the dough. I couldn’t help but wonder what this would taste like heated up in the microwave and served with vanilla ice cream.
Everything else we tried was very tasty and it was really refreshing to visit such a friendly place that focuses on creating quality treats with the perfect amount of flavor. They will also start selling Moon Cakes this month, so make sure you visit and stock up for the holiday!
Do you want to find more amazing local food? Join a Lost Plate Food Tour and find many places like this (and unlimited beer!) from the comfort of your own private tuktuk!
What you need to know
Address: 香米园南巷三拐弯 (Xiangmiyuannan Alley)
Directions: Enter the main East Gate and turn left on Beimadao Alley, which goes along the city wall. At the first intersection, turn right on Juyuan Alley and go past the Children’s Hospital. Then turn left on Zaoci Alley. After about 10 minutes walk, the road will take a few natural turns. The 3rd turn is a 90 degree turn left and the shop will be on your right immediately after the turn.
Brian is from the US and has lived all over the world finding good food and adventure everywhere he lives. In Xi’an he works for an American software company and co-owns Lost Plate Food Tours, a tour company aimed at introducing foreigners to the best local food in the city. To find out more about their tours, check out www.lostplate.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.