Have you ever been in Shaanxi? How can you learn about Shaanxi? The Chinese have a famous saying 民以食为天 (Mín yǐ shí weí tiān) which means 'people regard food as their primary want'. If you want to know the customs and culture there you must start with their food. I now invite you to be my honoured guest as I lead you through a nice tour of Shaanxi food.
Generally speaking Shaanxi can be divided into three parts: 陕北 (Shǎnběi - north of Shaanxi), 关中 (Guāngzhōng - middle of Shaanxi) and 陕南 (Shǎnnán - south of Shaanxi). The province is rich in wheat and has a broad variety of pasta dishes.
First let's go to Shaanbei with its broad blue sky, endless mountains, flocks of sheep with their shepherds, and the loud and clear folk songs sung by the shepherds resonating in the air. Shaanbei people are known as bold and unconstrained. They like eating and drinking with large bowls, and pasta and mutton are their favourite foods.
There are many mutton-based dishes; 羊肉圪陀 (Yángròu Gētuò - a kind of pasta with mutton), 羊杂碎 (Yáng Zásuì - a kind of soup made from sheep entrails and vermicelli), 羊肉面 (Yángròu Miàn - mutton noodles). Among these 四十里铺羊肉面 (Sìshí LǐPù Yángrou Miàn - the mutton noodles of Sishilipu) is famous for its delicious mutton and the weight of its noodles. When you order authentic mutton noodles, you'll receive a bowl of mutton and a bowl of noodles. The mutton should be made of fresh and tender high quality sheep's meat. Made by the skilful cook with his exclusive recipe, it’s fresh but not greasy, tasty but not fishy. Together with the noodles, I'm sure that a bowlful will easily fill your stomach to the rim – but still leave you wanting more.
麻辣肝碗砣 (Málà Gān Wǎntuó) is irresistible Shaanbei food especially in Summer. It consists of 荞面碗托 (Qiáomiàn Wǎntuó), which is made from 荞面 (Qiáomiàn - buckwheat flour). The rest of the name is derived from the word 碗托 (Wǎntuó - ‘bowl shaped thing’), since the Qiáomiàn is made into this shape. Accompanied by麻辣肝 (Málà Gān) which is made from animal liver and has a hot and spicy taste, it becomes one of the most delicious foods in the world. The good Wantuo should not break apart but still be soft to eat, and the colour light pink and grey. Another characteristic is the cutting skill of the cook. The thinner the better; the skilful cook can slice it into extremely fine slices. The beautiful colour, the tasty fragrance together with a cool taste makes it really enjoyable to have in the summer.
The Plains of Guanzhong are a land of milk and honey in Shaanxi Province. Ever since the ancient times, it was the capital area of many dynasties, for example Qin, Han, Sui, Tang Dynasty and so on.
牛羊肉泡馍 (Niú-/Yángròu Pàomó - soup of diced bread with beef or mutton) is the most renowned food in Guanzhong, which is famous not only for its delicious taste and stomach-warming function, but also for the important role in history.
It is said that early in the Han Dynasty, when the respected Princess Wang Zhaojun allied to the King of Xunnu it was impossible to take much food on the long journey. Fresh food would have been both too heavy to transport, and too easily spoilt. The Royal cook therefore had the idea of preparing a special meal consisting of dry silk noodles, bread and mutton. Since live cattle were also transported by the Princess’s party, there were no problems obtaining beef and mutton. Making a good soup is very important for this meal, and for the royal cook this was a piece of cake. The addition of some chilli sauce and sugared garlic not only reduces the mutton smell a little, but also makes the food much more delicious. The mutton is fresh and the soup is tasty. Beyond this Yangrou Paomo also has the function of warming the stomach, which makes it a pleasurable meal from then on.
Shaanxi is also famous for its various kinds of noodles, for example刀削面（Dāoxiāo Miàn - sliced noodles）油泼面（Yóupō Miàn - oil splashed noodles）拉条子（Lā Tiáozi - draft noodles）揪面片 (Jiū Miànpiàn - pieces of flour-meal) 扯面 (Chěmiàn - long and broad flour-meal) 蘸水面 (Zhànshuǐ Miàn - dip the noodles in tasty liquid or sauce) 哨子面 (Shàozi Miàn - noodles with pork).
Among them the most famous brand is Qishan Shaozi Mian, whose history goes back as far as the Qin dynasty. It is renowned for its long and stretchy, light, fried, thin noodles and spicy, vinegar-like soup. The noodles are made of top-grade flour through the process of manual rolling. The noodles are smooth and the soup is hot and sour. This combined with the pork, garlic and other vegetables, easily provokes your appetite through its delicious taste and abundance of nutrients. There is a famous saying in Guanzhong area which says Qishan's noodles, Fengxiang's wine and Fufeng's pastry is everywhere in the capital. This shows us the great reputation of Qishan noodles in Shaanxi Province.
Chinese dumplings are well-known throughout the world, and Weinan's时辰包子 (Shíhén Bāozi - time stuffed buns) are famous in Shaanxi Province. Its name comes from a nice story which can be traced back to Qin dynasty. There was a famous stuffed buns shop in Weinan owned by a man named Zhangkun. Every day hundreds of people queued to buy the stuffed buns , which meant they were all sold-out by 10 o’clock. For this reason it was called ‘time dumpling’. The skin is made from wheat and the stuffing from fresh pork. It is said that the fat is non-greasy and the lean meat leaves nothing in your mouth but the fragrance of the oil. Even after all this time it is still liked by many people. If you ever get the chance to go to Weinan, please don't miss the buns.
凉皮 (liáng pí) is another of Shaanxi's most famous dishes. It is welcomed all year round especially in summer, helping to reduce the 火 (hǔo - fire) in the body. Generally speaking liangpi can be divided into mipi (made of rice) and mianpi (made of flour). It tastes smooth, tender, soft and cool, while the seasoning is sour, spicy and hot. As for the beautiful colour, the white liangpi together with red spices, as well as the green vegetables make this dish immensely appetising. The most famous brand of Liangpi is Hanzhong Liangpi and Qinzhen Mipi. Between these, Qinzhen Mipi is the most ancient one, whose history goes back as far as the Qin dynasty. It is said that one year a drought gave the farmers such a bad harvest they couldn’t pay their taxes to the King. However, a clever person thought of using rice (the only food available) to make a special food in order to pay tribute to the king. The king was bored with all the various different delicacies, so he was very pleased to taste this special food and decided to remit the tax for Qinzhen. Qinzhen Mipi was kept from then on.
Shaannan is famous for its beautiful countryside and mild climate, so various kinds of fruit are produced as well as some other delicious foods. I'll now just pick out two of them for you. Liangpi is also one of the favorite foods in this region. The difference of 汉中凉皮 (Hànzhōng Liángpí) and Qingzhen Mipi is that Hanzhong Liangpi has more types. For example 米皮 (Mǐpí - made of rice) 粉皮 (Fěnpí - made of vermicelli of a different material) 面皮(Miànpí - made of flavor) 杆面皮(Gǎn Miànpí – slightly tougher Mianpi) 炒凉皮 (Chǎo Liángpí - stir-fried Liangpi) 热米皮 (Rè Mǐpí - hot Mipi) and so on. Hanzhong Liangpi is not only famous in Shaannan, it is loved by many people from other provinces too.
安康米酒 (Ānkāng Mǐjiǔ - Ankang sweet wine) also named醪糟 (Láozāo) is a traditional drink made of egg, raisins, longans, jujubes, white sugar, rice glue balls, walnuts and other neat things. It is not only nutritious but also tasty. Beyond this the alcohol of this sweet wine is as low as 10%, so it can be drunk by people of any age including infants and the elderly. It’s now widely used in wedding ceremonies, restaurants' New Year meals or at banquets together with our relatives to welcome our guests.
After this mental trip through the empire of tastes, I wish you will fall in love with Chinese food, won't you? Of course Shaanxi is a vast area and has a broad variety of foodstuffs, and I only picked out a little for you here. Also different people have different tastes. If you want to find the food you like most, you should go and travel by yourself. I'm sure you will get many pleasant surprises. I wish you a happy journey in Shaanxi.