Article By Stephen Robinson
No.78, Bao En Si Street, Han Guang Gate, Xiao Nan Men.
5:00pm – 3:30am
Average Price per Person /人均消费: 120RMB
Over the past several years, I have been to many Japanese restaurants in Xi’an – from the high-end fine-dining experience to the corporate sushi chains. Each has its own benefits, and you can often find very decent food at each, but still there is something lacking – a personal touch. During a previous trip to Japan, I had the opportunity to dine at several small, family-run restaurants, and in each you could feel the influence that the owner had on the place, and often, you could meet them as they would either be working the floor or be in the kitchen. However, there is a place in Xi’an were you can get that home-like touch – Mozai Japanese Restaurant.
On a rainy day in September (I know, which one?), we ventured out to try Mozai Japanese. Located just inside Hangguang Gate in one of the little side streets we found it. When you step inside, you are greeted first by a long wooden bar topped with sake and spirits, with chairs lined up along the bar. There are also several tables along the walls that can seat 4 to 5.
Upon closer inspection, you will find that the place is bedecked in memorabilia and small knickknacks, all from Japan. The reason for this extensive collection is that the owner, Xu Tao, originally from Xi’an, spent 25 years working in Japan before deciding to come back to take care of his aging parents. Once back, he decided to open a restaurant that celebrates his favorite things from Japan.
After talking for a bit, he mentioned that they have a basement floor that had been decorated in tatami-style. Heading to the back and down a steep staircase, we found ourselves in a room completely decked out in tatami and wooden screens, with many different posters and hanging banners on the wall. The place was full of charm and would be a fantastic place to host a party.
The hand-written menu has lots of different options, such as Japanese-style barbeque, sushi, and much more. Xu informed us that they are planning to change the menu about once a year to adjust for the seasonality of ingredients. More often, he said, would be too much trouble. To start us off, he brought out a small container of sake to warm us up after coming out through the rain. With this a trio of cold dishes came as an appetizer, including wasabi octopus, small clams in a sauce, and a seaweed salad. The wasabi octopus was very warming, with that characteristic mustard bite, and the saltiness of the seaweed salad paired well with the sake.
Next up was a dish of soft tofu with bonito flakes and Japanese-style sesame sauce. The creamy tofu and the flaky bonito paired really well together, and the sesame sauce added an earthy nuttiness to the dish and softened the other flavors.
It was at this point that Xu asked me if I would like a beer, to which the answer was always going to be yes. What he brought out was one of the frostiest glasses of Asahi I’ve ever had. The glass was so cold that ice crystals were forming at the top, which is absolutely the best way to enjoy a lager. Not long after the beer hit the table, we were served a nice pile of battered and deep-fried chicken cartilage, a favorite beer snack in Japan, and a great pairing. Salty and crunchy, this had everything you might want in a beer companion.
The next dish out was a comforting beef hot pot, stewed with cabbage, carrots and other vegetables, a perfect fit for a cool evening. The cast iron pot was positively full of flavor and the dish was soon emptied. We also were able to enjoy a bit of sashimi, with surf clam and sweet shrimp. Both were very fresh and tasted exceptionally clean, marking a high quality. After this came a large plate of skewers of yakitori. There were different varieties of meats and offal, with chicken thigh, liver, and crispy chicken skin, along with barbequed ginko nuts. One type we had a hard time identifying, so the owner told us it was a specialty, chicken tail. The normally fatty piece was specially prepared to remove most of the fat, making it pleasantly plump and juicy.
After the final skewers were served up, the chef came out to talk with us, as it was a slow night. The chef, as it turns out, is the owner’s wife. We sat for a while, drinking and enjoying ourselves, and it really did feel like a comfortable and welcoming place.
With good food, cheap beer (only 20RMb a glass), and a friendly and welcoming environment, Mozai Japanese restaurant is definitely a place that you should try, especially if you like Japanese food. If you have a chance to try it out, please let us know.
Stephen Robinson is the editor-in-chief at xianease and would love to get your thoughts on everything we are doing.You can contact him at email@example.com
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