Article by Alex Zheng
When we first move to Xi’an, we are greeted by a cornucopia of new smells and odd foods. From the crackling of the BBQ grills, to the drumming of the men hammering out sesame seed cakes, to the bubbling cauldrons of yangroupaomo dotted along the Muslim street, we get that sense that we are truly in another culinary world. And, for the first few months, this is a wondrous and delicious thing. Inevitably, after the umpteenth bowl of niuroulamian leaves our lips, we start to miss the comfort foods of home. In a city unaccustomed to foreigners, where can we find a bowl of Campbell’sSoup or the easy, cheesy goodness of a Cheetos puff?
If you have a patient Chinese friend or many patient Chinese friends willing to help you, taobao.com is absolutely the best way to buy all of your imported foods. It’s the cheapest, they deliver to your doorstep and it involves the least amount of time spent shopping. Of course, this requires someone who can read and write Chinese and accept the delivery man’s phone call for you. Not all of us have these kinds of awesome friends. If you’re Chinese-friendless then taobao.com is great with pinyin. If you don’t know pinyin, well, then you’re stuck.
The next best place for foreigners to shop is on jd.com. This website is better with English searches than taobao.com and you can pay using your WeChat Wallet. It has the same advantages as using taobao.com, but with the drawback that jd.com tends to be a little bit more expensive.They compensate for this higher cost by offering next day delivery and a seven-day, no-questions-asked return guarantee. However, to do anything other than buy stuff you will, again, need a Chinese friend to help you.
I realize that not all of us like to shop online and that some like to browse along supermarket aisles looking for ideas for next week’s meals. If this is you then you’ll want to head to these places:
- Xiyi Road
If you want fresh, imported seafood or vegetables, then head to Xiyi Road (西一路). Here you can find tanks of live Atlantic lobster, live Pacific Geoduck(and I even saw fresh crocodile meat for sale once). Kobe beef, whole turkeys, El Paso Pace Picante Salsa; they have it all here. They also carry fresh basil, parsley, rosemary and mint. If you’re at the Bell Tower, go north until you get to the first intersection, then make a right and keep walking for two blocks. Once you smell the fishtanks, you’re there. You’re probably not going to be able to bargain for five pounds of Digby scallops without paying a king’s ransom so I suggest bringing a Chinese friend to help you out.
- Ole and BLT
These are Vanguard’s higher-end supermarket chains, which carry a lot of imported foods. Their focus is more on luxury candies, biscuits and chocolates, but you can still get an assortment of sauces, breads and instant noodles here. Ole is located in the basement of the Wangfujing Plaza at South Gate and BLT is located in Saga Mall at the Xiaozhai Subway Terminal. You will definitely be paying a premium to shop here.
This is a German supermarket chain that carries a great deal of the imported stuff that you will need. Imported sauces, condiments, snacks, sausages, frozen meats, candies and dairy can all be found here. The Fine Food Toast sliced bread in particular is one of the few loaves of sliced bread that you can find in the city that isn’t sweet and buttery. Their Fine Food and Horeca labels tend to be imported or taste like they’ve been imported. There are two locations and one of them is next to the subway-accessible TV tower. Metro requires a membership so you’ll need your employer to provide a confirmation letter and the rest is easy.
- Korean Supermarkets
For those of you craving cheddar-stuff all-beef franks or any kind of hot dog, head to one of the local Korean markets. They carry an assortment of quality hot dogs/franks/wieners/brats, Spam and, believeitornot, great, American-tasting ice cream. You’ll also be able to find wagon wheels, Doritos and bread crumbs that don’t suck.
- Walmart and Vanguard
Vanguard is the largest supermarket chain in Xi’an and, of course, everyone is familiar with Walmart. Both of these supermarket chains have imported foods aisles that can carry basic foodstuff that you might need. Sometimes they can even surprise you – right now Vanguard is carrying genuine Sriracha sauce so you hipsters better haul down there before they de-stock it from their shelves!
So there you have it. If you want to do some good old-fashioned home cooking, get your ingredients from the places above.
Alex Zheng is the owner of Caprice and one of Xi’an’s foremost foodies. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org