Bell Ginkgo 银杏餐吧 (钟楼店)

If you asked many foreigners what food they missed most from home while living in China, the answer would often be cheese. While this food is very popular throughout much of the world, it is decidedly less popular here in China, with only a few examples of processed milk solids that barely passes for the real deal. Outside of the occasional foreign enclave in tier 1 cities, cheese can be difficult to come by except through shady Taobao dealers. Sometimes you just want to be able to walk into a shop and pick out a cheese or two, preferable with some cured meats and pickles. Luckily, Bell Ginkgo Restaurant and Bar offers exactly that, at reasonable prices as well.

The History of Christmas in China

Christmas has often been compared to Spring Festival in terms of its cultural importance within Western Culture, and there is some merit to the comparison. Both are winter-based holidays that are celebrated annually. Both are times of togetherness, family, and tradition. You could even draw parallels with Red Envelopes and giving gifts. However, it’s easy to forget that, while the practice is small, some local Chinese people like to celebrate this holiday as well, though often in a different way than you might expect. So this year, we thought we’d take a look at the history of this ubiquitous Western holiday, and how it got to the Middle Kingdom

Si at the Renaissance 丝·特色餐厅

There are many delicious cuisines across China, but one of the most unique and flavorful amongst them is also the one most people are least familiar with – Xinjiang Cuisine. The flavors of this province’s robust cuisine is closely related to its historical position along the Silk Road, and the style is unlike anything you will find elsewhere. However, it can be difficult to find a reasonable approximation of Xinjiang cuisine in Xi’an. Much like the scant number of edible Western dining options, the number of good Xinjiang restaurant in Xi’an are few, despite the popularity of the cuisine. So if you are looking for a reliable source of delicious Xinjiang food, you can try Si at the Renaissance Hotel.
Located near the TV Tower, the Renaissance hotel is a recognized five-star hotel brand by Marriott. Tapping into the history of Xi’an as the terminus of the Silk Road, the restaurant pulls its name from the Chinese word for Silk, Si. True to its name, the hotel provides a wide range of beef, lamb, and chicken dishes, including (if you book ahead of time) a whole roasted lamb. But even if you don’t want to go for the extravagance of eating an entire animal, there are still plenty of options for you.
On the day we arrived at the restaurant, just right of the main lobby of the Renaissance, the cold weather had just begun to set in outside. The dining room is relatively small compared to some hotel restaurants, but there is a large open kitchen where you can see the chefs preparing some of the dishes, including a large pit for the turning of the whole roasted lamb.
The first dish that we tried was a classic cold dish of 椒麻鸡, a spicy mixture of cooked chicken, peppers, onions, and scallions in a picante sauce. The heat was just enough to open up the taste buds for the meal to come. Alongside this was a vegetable dish called 戈壁滩炝拌沙葱, which was a green, string-like vegetable in a vinegary sauce. It too was very refreshing, and left us hungry for more.
Following this was one of my all-time favorite Xinjiang dishes, 烤包子 or oven-roasted baozi. Typically these are little pockets of cumin-scented lamb and onion that are packed into flaky dough that is then roasted in a traditional style oven. Si takes it a step further by also including a variation that used de-shelled crayfish as a filler instead of lamb. Both versions were delicious and disappeared quickly from the table.
This was followed by a unique dish that I had never heard of before, 喀什肚包肉 or Kashgar Meat stuffed-stomach. Not just a description of how you’ll feel after eating, this is almost like a meat dumpling, but instead of dough on the outside, you have a layer of beef tripe. This is served in a thin broth with cilantro and chili sauce on the side. We were also served some of their homemade yogurt, which came with a little fruit and a sprig of mint on top. It was smooth, creamy and thick, just the way yogurt should be.
After this, a series of classic dishes arrived at the table, including Xinjiang’s most famous dish – 大盘鸡. This dish, translated as “Big Plate of Chicken” is a staple of Xinjiang Cuisine and absolutely packed with flavor. It consists of large pieces of chopped chicken, potatoes, onions, and peppers in a thick, spicy sauce. This hearty dish is served with some plain hand-pulled noodles which were mixed into the sauce once room was made. (It was a BIG plate of chicken.) We were also served a dish of stewed beef, onions, and pepper with a cone of the Xinjiang flat bread, nang. Similar in many ways to the 大盘鸡 this dish, called 馕包肉, is tender and flavorful, and the crisp nang bread soaks up the sauce very well. We were also treated to some traditional Xinjiang-style barbeque, which was heavily-spiced chunks of meat skewered on a special type of wood that added an excellent cinnamon-lie fragrance to the meat.
The final dish to arrive was a special dish created by the chef that was meant to utilize the current season. This dish, a Western-inspired dish, was a whole crab that had been carefully baked in tinfoil on a bed of well-cooked vegetables. The dish was laced with butter and herbs, and was extremely fragrant when unwrapped. The meat of the crab was sweet and light, a perfect end after such a heavy meal.
If you have a craving for Xinjiang food or if you are looking to try it for the first time, you can’t go wrong with Si at the Renaissance. They are also one of the few restaurants to maintain a five-star rating on 大众点评 and would love for you to come by and find out why. And if you feel they deserve it, drop them a review on the app.

RHINO COFFEE

If you are someone who likes their morning coffee, you may have discovered a slight problem when you first arrived in China. Most people drink coffee in the afternoon. As such, it can be difficult to find a coffee shop that is actually open before 10AM that is not an international chain slinging less than great coffee. Even though numerous coffee shops have opened up over the past several years, none of them have really caught on to the ‘be open in the morning’ thing. Enter Rhino Coffee.

Tang Dynasty Xi’an

If you’ve lived in Xian for more than a minute or two, you might have noticed the word Tang pops up quite a lot here in Xi’an. The name corresponds to what is arguably one of the greatest Chinese dynasties, and what was indisputably the height of the power and prestige of Xi’an, then Chang’an. What you might not know is that there are many remnants of the historical city that have left their mark on modern Xi’an.

MOZAI Japanese 未在日式居酒屋

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.

A Look at Shaanxi Dialect

When most people think of the Chinese language, the first thing that comes to mind is how difficult it is to learn. After all, most foreigners who have come to live in China have, at some point, attempted to learn the language, with varying degrees of success. But when we say, “learn Chinese”, what we are actually referring to is Mandarin Chinese or standard Chinese. However, anyone who has attempted to have a conversation outside of a classroom has likely encountered a slight hiccup – dialects and accents.
Chinese language is actually composed of a wide variety of different dialects and accompanying accents. The good news is, most people under 30 likely speak with relatively unaccented Mandarin Chinese, with only a slight inflection here or there that may uncover an indication of where they are from. The older generations, though, are a different matter entirely. In either case, most people in China can speak at least two versions of Chinese, standard Mandarin and their hometown dialect.

Le’ban: A New Brunch Spot? 乐班(万象天地店)

While brunch has become a mainstay of many of the coastal cities in China, Xi’an has long lacked anything approaching the leisurely gourmet experience that is a nice brunch. While there are many great breakfast foods, and plenty of 5-star hotel buffets for you to stuff your face at, the brunch experience, a.k.a. sweet or savory breakfast style foods and some sort of boozy accompaniment that will help ease out the aches of a night of overindulgence or as a way to kick start a fine weekend.

Cinnamon Pink Cocktail Bar 肉桂粉

It’s safe to say that cocktails have taken Xi’an by storm. There are more cocktail bars than any one person would be able to visit, and there are new bars opening all the time, even as older bars close. But even with the vast variety, bars can sometimes start to feel…generic. It’s always the same drinks, mixed in very similar ways, without out much in the way of theme or originality. It’s often that I walk into a bar and recognize every single drink, and every single bottle on the wall. So, it takes something unique to impress me.