Article By Alex Zheng
Xi’an is a great place to eat if you can wrap your head around the food. We’ll try and give the local food some context in order to make it understandable for y’all.
This month I’m tackling the incredibly complex topic of noodles in Xi’an. I’ll break it down into its most basic elements and this guide is going to walk you right through the world of noodles.
The confusion with noodles has largely to do with two main issues. One is that the noodles, much like Italian pasta, all have different names for their shapes and the locals use this interchangeably with the noodle dishes themselves. This is much like saying you like spaghetti and also saying you like Bolognese. Actually, they can be the same thing. Same goes for Chinese noodles; you can like both dao shao mian and ganban mian. I’m going to use a lot of Italian noodle analogies in this article to make things relatable, so let’s dive right into it.
Generally, you won’t have to choose your noodle size as each dish already has its own standard. Knowing the sizes lets you customize your dish as well as add variety to dishes you have already tried. Knowing the noodle sizes also takes some confusion out of noodle lore.
The most common types of noodle dishes in Xi’an are:
- Zha jiang mian is a dish that originates from the north but is very popular throughout China. It has a savoury dark sauce made from Chinese miso paste (fermented soybeans) mixed with bits of vegetables on noodles. This is a recurring theme in Chinese cooking. There’re small bits of vegetables and tofu in everything. As with pasta, you can choose whatever noodle you want with your zhajiangmian sauce.
- Xi hong shi ji dan mian is also a hugely popular dish here. It’s likely that you’ve eaten it within your first week in Xi’an. It’s tomato sauce and (a little bit of) scrambled eggs on noodles.
- You po mian is literally oily noodles. It’s similar to an olive oil spaghetti back home except that these noodles also have some vinegar and soy sauce.
- La zhi rou mian are meat sauce noodles that are served dry. This style of noodles has a lot of hand-pulled meat (think pulled-pork) in sauce
- Saozi mian is almost like noodles in broth except that the broth only partially covers the noodles. It’s tastes similar to liang pi in that it is hot-and-sour except that it has meat, wheat noodles instead of starch noodles and a little more sauce.
- Lan zhou niu rou la mian is beef noodle soup. It has very little beef and originates from Lanzhou in Gansu province and is very popular in Xi’an.
- Chao mian is fried noodles. You’ll usually find this at a kaorou shop and it’ll be liberally spiced with cumin and peppers. If it’s not a kaorou shop the restaurant will usually call it chao la tiao and the noodles with be thicker but it’s basically the same dish.
- Biang biang mian is popular with tourists visiting Xi’an because of the characters used to represent the dish but from my experience this is a big scam. Every restaurant I’ve been to basically sells the super wide noodles tekuan mian with a random house sauce and they magically become “biang biang noodles”. If you must eat it, take a selfie with the words biangbiang mian in the background and call it a day.
So to summarize if you want noodles in Xi’an you can choose between a miso sauce, tomato sauce, hot-and-sour sauce, meat sauce, oil sauce, beef noodle soup or fried noodles. Not so complicated, right? If you can remember the words bolognese, alfredo, arrabbiata, carbonara, primavera, and pomodoro you can certainly remember the names of Chinese noodles!
This is just the tip of the iceberg with regards to noodles in Xi’an. The locals take their noodles very seriously and I don’t want to go and on about the endless variations. The noodle dishes above can keep you eating for the next year.
Alex is the consummate foodie and has forgotten more about food than you’ve ever known. He can be reached at Alexander.Zheng@capricexian.com