For many people, one of the best parts about traveling and visiting another country is the chance to try a different cuisine. Local flavor is part of what makes each country, region, or city its own unique destination. While this doesn’t mean everyone is going to jump at the chance to try unusual local delicacies, most people appreciate authentic food when they travel. In fact, “foodie tourism” has become a recent trend, with people traveling exclusively for the restaurants and dining experiences they can have. But even ordinary travelers often want to know the best local dishes and places to eat when they travel. The city of Xi’an in China is no exception to this rule. Xi’an offers plenty of dishes of all different types to try. It’s also home to hundreds of restaurants and places to eat, including some areas of the city that are heavily saturated with great food options. As many travelers are surprised to find out, true Chinese cuisine, including that of Xi’an, can be quite different than the Westernized version they experience at home. It’s usually far more diverse, flavorful, and authentic, representing the people, culture, heritage, and land from where it originated.
Basic Info on Xi’an
Xi’an is a city that is home to just shy of 9 million people. It is the capital of Shaanxi province, in northwestern central China. It’s a popular tourist destination, and holds many tourist attractions, including the famed Terracotta Army. Over the centuries, Xi’an repeatedly served as the capital city of China under various dynasties. It retains much of that history and heritage today through the numerous cultural sites and landmarks that dot the city. Like many of the major Chinese cities, Xi’an is a blending of old and new. 14th century structures still stand, and much of the tourism to the area is focused on the past. At the same time, Xi’an is a modern city with a modern economy, including a heavy industrial manufacturing base, a large service sector, tourism-related enterprises, and, of course, lots and lots of food options! The cuisine is enriched and made somewhat more unique due to the area’s relatively large Muslim population throughout history. This influence can be seen in the ingredients and style of some of the dishes that are popular in Xi’an.
Xi’an Famous Food
Like any major city or region in the world, Xi’an has certain elements of Chinese cuisine that are local favorites, and which it is well known for. Of course, like many things in life, “favorites” can be quite subjective. What one person considers the gold standard of local cuisine can often be despised by others. What’s a tourist to do? We’ve pored through reviews and sought the advice of experts, to come up with our list of 10 Xi’an famous foods that travelers absolutely have to try. [gallery source="gdlr-core" style="slider" slider-navigation="bullet" masterslider="true" autoplay="false" loop="true" ids="8975,8977,8973,8981" orderby="rand"]
1. Yangrou Paomo
This dish is widely considered to be emblematic of Xi’an. It consists of flatbread that is torn into tiny pieces (usually by the customer) and then soaked in a flavorful soup broth with rice and scallions, to which beef or lamb is added. The lamb is the traditional protein for the dish, and likely a result of the aforementioned Islamic influence on the area’s cuisine. The dish is finished off with pickled sweet garlic.
The essence of Xi’an famous food, at least of the street food variety, consists of…well, pretty much anything on a wooden skewer. Analogous to kebabs/kabobs, this staple in Xi’an life can readily be found all throughout the city. Meats, vegetables, mushrooms, and more can all be found skewered, fired over coals, and served with sauces of cumin, chili peppers, peppercorns, and more. They’re extremely affordable, too, often costing the equivalent of just a few US cents each.
This meat-filled sandwich is often called the Chinese hamburger. It originates from Xi’an and Shaanxi province, and is now quite popular all throughout China. It differs, of course, from the traditional Western-style hamburger. For one thing, it’s much older, dating back to sometime around 200 BC. Roujiamo consists of a crispy baked leavened bread is used as the “bun,” and filled with spiced, braised, and shredded meat. Spices and recipes can vary considerably from vendor to vendor. The meat can be pork, beef, or lamb. Pork is the most traditional filling, though beef is the main stand-in in Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter.
4. Pomegranate Juice
A local specialty, especially during the fall season when the pomegranates are ripe, pomegranate juice seems to be sold in almost every food stand.
5. Persimmon Doughnuts
These aren’t doughnuts like many Western tourists are used to. They are fried and crispy on the outside, but the inside is a dense and chewy texture, made of unleavened dough, of which dried persimmons are a major component. They’re quite delightful, just a bit of a textural difference that can take the uninitiated by surprise.
Often served as a side dish to roujiamo, liangpi are cold rice noodles. They’re cooked, and left to cool to room temperature before serving. Then, they’re doused in sauce, usually something spicy with chili oil and peppers, vinegar, and garlic. It’s a far cry from French fries, but very tasty, and a lot healthier, too!
7. Biangbiang Noodles
Pretty much any type of hand-stretched noodle can be found in Xi’an. Wheat is a major crop in the area, and makes up many of the noodles that are popular. These particular noodles are wide and long (several feet in some cases). They are made with eggs, oil, and wheat flour, and then hand stretched before cooking. Then, they’re served with vinegar, spices, vegetables, and a dash of hot oil. For a bit more money, proteins can be added, too.
Tangbao is the Xi’an version of soup dumplings. They’re made with lamb or beef instead of the more traditional pork that characterizes soup dumplings in other cities. It comes with a special local sauce of vinegar and chilies.
9. Fried Potatoes
We promise, we’re not talking about French fries! Instead, the local take on fried potatoes uses small Chinese potatoes, that are fried up in a wok with chili peppers, spices, salt, sugar, and often garlic and/or scallions. In traditional Xi’an fashion, though they are served in a bowl, they come with a skewer for eating.
One of the Xi’an famous food entries that is typically a breakfast item is zenggao. Glutinous rice, kidney beans, and dates are compressed in a special device called a zeng. They sit overnight inside the zeng, effectively fusing them together into a coherent whole. When they’re ready the next day, they’re sweet, without being cloying, and quite filling.
Areas of Xi’an to Taste Xi’an Famous Food
By far, the most popular area of Xi’an to taste outstanding examples of Xi’an famous food is the Muslim Quarter. This area features uncountable vendor stalls, street food stands, and sit-down dining establishments. It’s located in the northwestern quarter of the city. You won’t find pork in the dishes here, but otherwise, the full range of local cuisine, including the fused influence of Middle Eastern and Chinese flavor, is on full display. If you would rather skip the crowded and tourist-heavy Muslim Quarter, an alternative that many locals swear by is Yongxing Fang, a massive food court, around the middle of the eastern wall of the city. Many consider it better quality food, less crowded, and at a lower cost than in the Muslim Quarter – with a full range of options still being represented. It’s also heavier on sit-down eating establishments than the Muslim Quarter, which is much more a classic “street food” section of the city. Finally, if neither of those options are appealing to you, there are a number of restaurants and food options scattered along the major roads in the southern portion of downtown, southwest, and southeast of the Bell Tower. There are also plenty of shopping, entertainment, and lodging options in this area as well.
Popular Xi’an Restaurants
In addition to all of the vendor stalls and market sellers, especially common in the Muslim Quarter, there are several hundred eating establishments all around town. Many of these serve some or all of these local favorites – though for street food, there’s no replacing the authentic outdoor experience. Elsewhere, there are plenty of traditional sit-down eating establishments serving up Xi’an and Shaanxi specialty cuisine, alongside broader traditional Chinese dishes. Some of the best-rated Xi’an restaurants in town are listed below. We’ve tried to provide a good cross-section of eatery styles and cuisine focus in a short, accessible list. But, if you need more specific information, you can always ask your Trippest tour guide for some tips on where to go!
- WangKui Lazhi Roujiamo, Changlefang St, Baxian'an, Beilin District, Xi'an
- Tongshengxiang, 5 West St, Lianhu, Xi'an
- Laosunjia Restaurant, Dong Main St, Beilin District, Xi’an
- Jiasan Tangbao Zi Guan, 93 Beiyuanmen, Lianhu, Xi'an
- Zhangan Dapai Dang, F6, Saige Intl Mall, Xiaozhai, Xi’an
- Zuichangan Restaurant, 56 Shuyuan Men, Beilin District, Xi’an
- Biangbiang Mian, 65 Baishulin, Xi’an
- Rong Palace, Gran Melia Xi’an Hotel, 1666 Quijiangchi West Rd., Quijang New Area, Xi’an