Though the Chinese city of Xi’an is best known for its terracotta soldiers, it also has some notable culinary specialities, including ‘soaked flatbread with beef or mutton’ (niu/yang rou pao mo) and sweet persimmon cakes. Since a tiny stall called ‘Xi’an Famous Foods‘ in a mall in Flushing, New York, blossomed into a chain of six casual restaurants, New Yorkers have been able to taste some of these, but until now the only place in London to serve some Xi’an food has been Chang’s Noodle, near the British Museum, which serves mainly food from Henan Province. Anyway, this week an old friend of mine, Chef Wei Guirong, has opened a sweet little neighbourhood snack shop in Holloway devoted to specialities of Xi’an, which is her hometown.
Chef Wei is making all her own noodles, flatbreads and dumpling wrappers, as well as liang pi, which translates (somewhat unappetisingly!) into English as ‘cold skin’, but is actually slippery-fresh noodles made from steamed wheatstarch, served with slivered cucumber and chicken in a chilli-oil dressing (the wheat gluten is served separately in a salad).
The other night I dropped in with some friends for supper, and was
delighted to be able to scoff fabulous flatbreads stuffed with the local version of pulled pork (la zhi rou); Xi’an potsticker dumplings with their typical open ends, and, here, a chicken and mushroom stuffing; and, of course, ‘soaked flatbread with beef’, a hearty soup-stew served with sweet pickled garlic, chopped coriander and a chilli relish. When we’d finished, we looked somewhat enviously at the Chinese people at a neighbouring table slurping up hand-pulled noodles – I’ll try them next time.
Incidentally, one of the dishes on the menu is Shaanxi biang biang noodles – which are renowned because their name is based on the most complicated of all Chinese characters. Above, you can see this character, in all its splendour, in a photograph I took of a restaurant sign in the old Muslim town of Xi’an.
Chef Wei is yet another alumna of Barshu, the restaurant for which I work as consultant – continuing the tradition of Barshu functioning as a kind of Ivy League of Chinese chefs in the UK (Sichuan Folk in Hanbury Street and My Sichuan in Oxford are among the restaurants run by former Barshu chefs; Xi’an Impression is also run by the Sichuan Folk folk).
Xi’an Impression, 117 Benwell Street, N7 7BW
Tel: 0203 441 0191