Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Noodles and Dumplings.

A dish of dumplings from De Fa Chang Restaurant, Xi'an.  Yes, these are dumplings!
(Photo from Absolute China Tours.) 

For me, Chinese food is comfort food. No surprise given that is my heritage. 

Chinese cuisine offers a wide variety of food but two of my favorites are noodles and dumplings.  I am the Noodle Queen.  I can eat some form of noodle every day of the week though every now and again, I will break away from the noodle habit and indulge in some pasta.

The Chinese have been making noodles for centuries and there are literally more than 100 different kinds and are generally made from wheat flour, rice flour or mung bean starch with wheat noodles being more commonly produced and consumed in northern China and rice noodles being more typical of southern China.

Biang biang mian.  (Photo by Gary Soup.
Licensed under CC BY 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons.
The dough for noodles made from wheat flour is typically made from wheat flour, salt, and water, with the addition of eggs or lye (aka quick lime) depending on the desired texture and taste of the noodles. Rice or other starch based noodles are typically made with only the starch or rice flour and water.

Given a choice, I choose rice noodles first, followed by plain wheat noodles and then last but not least, egg noodles.

Xi'an is famous for its noodles and since I will only be there for a few days, I will indulge in my one Xi'an noodle obsession otherwise, I will not have room in my stomach for anything else.

When in Xi'an, I will indulge in bowls of pulled noodles, otherwise known as  biang biang mian also known as Belt Noodle because it often comes as wide as a belt.

As simple as this flat, hand pulled, hand cut noodle is, the Chinese character for its name is one of the most complex characters in the Chinese lexicon.  In fact, it is so complicated there is no Unicode value for the character - it can't be typed on normal computers and can only be represented as an image.

The Chinese character for biang is made up of 58 strokes in its traditional form, 43 in simplified Chinese.  The character is composed of (speak; 7 strokes) in the middle flanked by (tiny; 2×3 strokes) on both sides. Below it, (horse; 10 strokes) is similarly flanked by (grow; 2×8 strokes). This central block itself is surrounded by (moon; 4 strokes) to the left, (heart; 4 strokes) below, and (knife; 2 strokes) to the right. These in turn are surrounded by a second layer of characters, namely (cave; 5 strokes) on the top and (walk; 4 strokes) curving around the left and bottom.

Thank God I don't have to write down the character in order to order a delicious bowl of the soup.

Biang biang noodles are actually simple to make.  The secret is to use high gluten flour which I buy, in the bulk food section, from a local co-op.  Watch this video with Danny Bowen (of Mission Chinese Food fame) and Martha Stewart making them.  The noodles are simple and rustic making them the perfect vehicle for all sorts of toppings.  A common one in Xi'an is a cumin lamb sauce.  Done well, it is absolutely delicious!

I'm definitely going to drag the girls out for a bowl or two in the Muslim quarter.  Speaking of the Muslim Quarter, it's a great place to grab street food

No trip to Xi'an would be complete without a dumpling banquet.  I've eaten hundreds of meals on my trips so far and only a few have been truly memorable.  One was the dumpling banquet that I had at De Fa Chang in Xi'an back in 2009.  Our guide took us there for dinner and since there were 10 of us in the group, with 3 young men who could pack in the food, we ordered up a massive lot of dumplings.  I had never seen such variety before.


Some of the dumplings were shaped in wrappers to match the filling.  I loved the little one that looked just like a walnut shell.


Back then, taking photos of food was not something I did.  How times have changed!  Everyone, including me, has become an amateur food photographer.  In any case, I wanted to have some nice images of Xi'an dumplings for this posting so I scoured the web and found a few I liked.

In Xi'an, dumplings come in a seemingly endless variety of wrappers, fillings and wrap designs.  Sometimes, the dumplings are in traditional shapes as in the photo below but they are very often miniature versions of the classic shapes making them incredibly difficult to fold - there's a very skilled dumpling maker in the kitchen!

Dumplings, dumplings, dumplings!  (Photo from Easy Tour China.)




If you thought dumplings were simply wrapped in plain wheat wrappers, here is why the Chinese are true dumpling masters.

More dumplings from De Fa Chang Restaurant, Xi'an. 
(Photo from Absolute China Tours.) 



And if you thought dumplings were only wrapped in simple shapes, this plate of goldfish and duck shaped dumplings will blow your mind!  The dish is truly a work of art! 

Goldfish and duck shaped dumplings from De Fa Chang Restaurant, Xi'an. 
(Photo from Absolute China Tours.)
Scroll back up and take a second look at the photo that opens this posting.  The dumplings are shaped and decorated to look like flower buds and bees.  An incredible work of art!

In Xi'an, it's common to go for what is referred to as a dumpling banquet.  A dumpling banquet restaurant typically offers over 108 different kinds of Chinese Dumplings.  The banquets are categorized into themed feasts, each of which might consist of 15 to 20 different types of dumpling resembling different shapes and fillings. They are served according to the number of guests at the table. Even if you eat fast, you won’t be able to get a second dumpling of the same style.  We are so going to indulge in a dumpling banquet.  Like me, Yim is a die hard foodie so I know she will be up for gorging on dumplings.

But




Xi'an Jiefang Road Dumpling Restaurant and De Fa Chang Dumpling Restaurant are the best places to have authentic Dumpling Banquet.