Truly Cheap Eats: Xi'an Famous Foods

I've heard about Xi'an Famous Foods for a while now, and after walking by the St. Mark's location a while back, I put it on the top of my "must visit" list. Finally, while in Chinatown yesterday to pick up some groceries in anticipation of the Lunar New Year, Jimmy and I hit the location under the Manhattan Bridge.

Once again, why had I waited so long?

First, the noodle-making process is fascinating...and I actually think I could eventually learn how to make them? I'm sure there's a lot of initial kneading that goes on, but for each order, she took a blob of dough, stretched and slapped it against the counter, ripped it lengthwise into four pieces, then threw it into boiling water for a minute or two. That's it!

We went a little crazy and tried three dishes: Jimmy ordered the Lang Pi Cold Skin Noodles and the Savory Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles, while I couldn't resist the Spicy & Tingly Beef Hand Ripped Noodles. The Lang Pi were surprisingly complex for a cold noodle dish, and its tofu slices were marinated in something wonderful (I'm not a tofu fan, but I could eat tons of this). The Savory Cumin Lamb was off the hook--its aroma filled the little shop, and its combination of spices and chili made me incredibly happy (I need to go back and try the burger version sometime). The Spicy & Tingly Beef was good, too--but my least favorite of the three. The consistency of the beef, in my opinion, was a little weird, but it's still worth trying, as its sauce was different, a little more Sichuan-style than the other two.

Doing a little background on the cuisine of Xi'an, its spice-filled style makes complete sense. The city was in the heart of the Silk Road, and therefore a trading center for spices from the Middle East. The flavors in the dishes we had are an example of that tradition: the sauces are rich, aromatic, complex, and spicy...and addictive. I haven't been able to stop nibbling the leftovers (I just ate the remaining Lang Pi Cold Skin noodles, and it ranks among the best breakfasts ever).

So, for the price (most things hover in the $5 to $6 range), this place is definitely an educational culinary adventure worth taking.

Xi'an Famous Foods has a few outlets throughout the city, but we visited the teeny tiny counter-only location on 88 East Broadway, underneath the Manhattan Bridge (around the corner on Forsyth).

For a little more info. on the cuisine of Xi'an and a peek behind the noodle-making scenes, check out this Cooking Channel video (not really sure what Mo Rocca's doing in the beginning of this clip, but whatever...).

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