Monday, November 28, 2011

food in the muslim quarters of xian

this china trip, covering xian, huanglong, jiuzhaogou, chengdu and beijing, was organised by sun jie who hails from xian and who studied in monash university (for her masters). she had some help from three others who also studied in monash but who have returned to china to work. all the members in the group also belong to the same church in melbourne. my elder daughter and my son-in-law attend this church. i had been on an earlier trip with 3 of the people in this group; in 2010, we successfully climbed mt kinabalu in sabah.

of the 8 of us on this china tour, 3 hold singapore citizenship, 3 malaysian, 1 australian and 1 china citizenship. there is no direct flight to xian from singapore. 6 of us flew china eastern airlines from s'pore to xianyang via yunnan. sun jie had returned to xian earlier and the last member of the group joined us one day later, flying from kuala lumpur to singapore, and thence to yunnan and xianyang.

our 4-star hotel was located within walking distance to the drum and bell towers. it was next to the muslim quarters of xian. we had three of our meals in different eating places within the quarters. if not for the caps and the head-scarves (worn by the women), it is difficult to tell that these people, the huis, are muslims. they speak mandarin and there does not seem to be any social or cultural barriers between them and the majority han chinese. even the 1269 years old great mosque of xian looks chinese in every way. i nearly mistook it for a temple.

for breakfast, instead of macdonalds, we opted to have this stuffed flatbread in one of the muslim eateries. the fried pancakes were stuffed with finely chopped meat, onion and chives. some of us also ate the popular and traditional yang rou pao mo. unlike the dish we had for dinner, this one we did not have to tear the hard bread into tiny pieces. it was already done for us. meat was either beef or mutton. there was chicken but it would seem that most of the chicken in shaanxi were underfed.

our first meal in xian was lunch in a muslim restaurant. one indication that the restaurant was islamic was the arabic words found on the signboard. when these dumplings appeared at our table, i had thought they were xiaolong bao. surely, they could not be as this was an islamic eating place. we found out that the dumplings were filled with either beef or mutton. like xiaolong bao, they were quite juicy. our 'host' ordered 10 trays of the dumplings. we also had cold noodles, kebabs, some vegetable dishes and black and white glutinous rices for dessert.

this is one dish that all visitors to xian should have a go at it. it is the yang rou pao mo (shredded bread soaked in mutton stew). there is a certain procedure to eating this dish. first, each of us was given a large porcelain bowl and a piece of flat round unleavened bread. we had to break or tear our own bread into small pieces so that it could absorb the flavour of the stew. when it was done, we handed the bowls of broken bread to the waiter. when he returned with the bowls of bread in mutton stew, he had to remember which bowl belonged to whom. we all enjoyed the dish.