Xi’an is known for many unique traditions: I even bought a set of postcards called Ten Strange Shaanxi Customs (see photos of them below). One of the cards mentioned belt-thick noodles, so we set out on a mission to find them.
There are various places in Xi’an to try these noodles, known as Biang Biang Mian. “Biang” happens to be the most complex character in the Chinese language. The dish itself is much simpler: it’s a handmade noodle made by strenuous noodle pulling that is commonly done in public to attract hungry customers!
One of the best places to eat this delicacy is in the Muslim Quarter. Unfortunately due to time restrains, we had to find a different option. We ended up in a popular chain called First Noodle Under the Sun. Although it’s a chain, it is mostly just popular among locals so the staff doesn’t speak English and the menu is mostly in Chinese.
If you come eat here, be prepared to get seated in the center of the restaurant so that everyone can look at you and take photos, which regularly happens to foreigners all over China. The menu has a vast selection of dishes from roast lamb and rice to steamed vegetables. Of course, the recommended dish is the infamous Biang Biang Mian!
We were treated like royalty and served tasty flowery tea while we waited – which wasn’t long. Three waiters brought in the noodles: two plates with one ginormous noodle per person and two smaller bowls of soup each. One of the soups was fishy with tiny shrimp and tofu while the other had lamb with various spices. The “spicy” soup was yummy and although I can’t handle a millimeter of chili pepper, it was completely manageable, so don’t shy away from it if you generally hate spicy food.
The staff had to show us how to eat the noodle. First, you wrap it around a chopstick and place it in one of the bowls. Use the other chopstick as a knife by pressing it against the edge of the bowl to cut off a section of the noodle. Eat the noodles out of the soup bowls. Voila! If you still have room once you’ve eaten the entire noodle (unlikely) you can drink the remaining soup. Slurping is not rude, it’s expected in China!