Xi'an is one of the oldest cities in China and the capital of Shaanxi Province now. It became the cultural and political centre of China in the 11th century BC with the founding of the Zhou dynasty. Since then, Xi’an was the capital for 13 dynasties controlling whole or part of China, including several of the most important dynasties in Chinese history, such as Western Zhou, Qin, Western Han, Sui, and Tang, totally for 1077 years of capital history. Xi’an is the home to the Terracotta Army and Bronze Carriage of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, and along with Luoyang city, Xi'an is also the starting point of the Silk Road in the East. It is the most significant influencing ancient capital in China and one of the birthplace of the civilization of China. So far, Xian enjoys equal fame with Athens, Cairo and Rome as one of the four major ancient civilization capitals in the world. No wonder Xi'an is your gateway to ancient Chinese civilization. Touring in Xian is actually walking through the 6,000-year history of China. If you are interested in ancient Chinese civilization, culture and history, your Xian tour is a recipe to satisfaction.
How long the tour in Xi'an could be:
There are many extraordinary historical sites on display in Xi'an. But if you only want to see the essence of Xi'an, normally 2 days would be enough. The following is the recommended itinerary:
Day 1: Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and the Da Ci'en Temple (Temple of Great Maternal Grace) around it, ancient Xi'an City Wall, Shaanxi History Museum, Muslim Corner (Please note: The Museum is closed on every Monday.)
Day 2: Terracotta Army and Bronze Carriage of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, Banpo Neolithic Village Museum
If you have more time, you can take One Day Tour to the Western Itinerary of Xi'an, include Famen Temple (with the true finger bone sarira of the Buddha Sakyamuni), Qianling Mausoleum (built by 684 AD, the tombs complex for Gaozong (649–683), the 2nd emperor of Tang dynasty and his wife Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in China, and some members of the imperial family of the Tang dynasty, include Prince Yide), and One Day Tour to the Western Itinerary of Xi'an to visit Mt. Hua (or Huashan Mountain, the western mountain of the Five Great Holy Mountains of China).
What to See in Xi'an
For any foreign tourist, Xi’an is one of the must visit cities in China, renowned for its Terracotta Army and Bronze Carriage, magnificent temples, majestic pagodas and holy Buddhism treasures, royal mausoleums, ancient city wall and well protected old Xi'an corner with some ancient grand elaborate Mosques. It is a city for travel in all seasons.
What to see and When to go largely depends on one's vacation time, weather preference, personal budget, and the tourist seasons in Xi'an.
There are tens of attractions in Xi'an, and something for everyone. But at least, the following 6 places are the must for every tourist: Terracotta Army and Bronze Carriage of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and the Da Ci'en Temple (Temple of Kindness and Grace) around it, ancient Xi'an City Wall, Shaanxi History Museum, Muslim Corner (well-protected old Xi'an streets, include the out view of Bell Tower and Drum Tower), Banpo Neolithic Village Museum.
If you have more time, you can also visit the Stele Forest (enjoy precious ancient Mandarin calligraphy steles) in downtown Xi'an if you are interested at the Mandarin calligraphy, Hanyangling Museum (mausoleum for Han dynasty emperor Liu Qi, completed in 126 BC) which is on the way to Xi'an Airport, Western Itinerary of Xi'an Tour include Famen Temple (with the true finger bone sarira of the Buddha Sakyamuni), Qianling Mausoleum (built by 684 AD, the tombs complex for Gaozong (649–683), the 2nd emperor of Tang dynasty and his wife Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in China, and some members of the imperial family of the Tang dynasty, include Prince Yide) , and the Eastern Itinerary of Xi'an Tour to visit Mt. Hua (or Huashan Mountain, the western mountain of the Five Great Holy Mountains of China) .
Of all these, going to Terracotta Army and Bronze Carriage of Emperor Qin Shi Huang is commonly considered as the No. 1 thing to do in Xi'an.
Located at the northern foot of Lishan Mountain, 45 kilometers east of Xi'an, the Terracotta Army is the buried army of Qin Shi Huang, the emperor who united whole China and died in 210 BC. This army was made of clay and constructed to protect him in the afterlife. They are around life-size tall, with commanders in the army being the tallest. Although now looks in grey, in fact, they were decorated beautifully when they were made out. Now there are still some colorful pieces of terracotta army sculptures being discovered, but they should be immediately protected in advanced scientific means. The Terracotta Army was discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well looking for underground water. Over a thousand terracotta warriors and horses have been uncovered since then. At least 6,000 more are thought to remain buried still at this archaeological site.
The sculptures are so detailed that it is possible to guess the age, rank and personality of each one. None of the soldiers are the same. Some carry weapons such as daggers, bows and arrows, swords, spears or axes.
The figures include warriors, generals, chariots and horses. Estimates from 2007 were that the 3 pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum. Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.
The Terracotta Army was listed as the UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. "the tomb is the largest in Chinese history, with a unique standard and layout, and a large number of exquisite funeral objects. It testifies to the founding of ... the Qin Dynasty, which during the 3rd BCE, wielded unprecedented political, military and economic power and advanced the social, cultural and artistic level of the empire. ", valued by UNESCO.
The entrance ticket will be checked 2 time: the gate to the park before the Museum and the gate into the Museum yard. So keep the ticket carefully is very important. It will take around 20 minutes walking from the 1st gate to 2nd gate. So there is battery car service between the 2 gates.
Normally your tour in the Museum can go like this:
from left to right,
1. Enjoy a Movie in the Movie Hall to know a rough idea of the Terracotta Warrior and the Mausoleum.
2. Pit 1, the biggest and first pit to be found
3. Pit 3, the commander team of the Army
4. Pit.4. Crossbowman，War Chariot and some fine statues
5. Exhibition Hall to enjoy the most precious ones, such as the Bronze Chariots and Horses, and some thematic exhibitions
Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and the Da Ci'en Temple (Temple of Great Maternal Grace) around it
Standing in the middle of Da Ci'en Temple complex, Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is a well-preserved Buddhist pagoda located in downtown Xi'an. It was built in 652 during the Tang dynasty. One of the pagoda's many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of the Buddha that were brought to China from India by the Buddhist translator and traveler Monk Xuanzang. He translated Sanskrit scriptures to Mandarin and developed Buddhism theories of consciousness, karma and rebirth that were adopted by some later popular schools of Buddhism. In 704, 5 new stories were added on the pagoda, but in around 1560 it was partially damaged in earthquake and immediately rebuilt to its current height of 7 stories, the style of the pagoda still exists as the original one in Tang Dynasty. Now it is 64 m (210 ft) tall and from the top it offers views over the city of Xi'an.
It was added to the World Heritage List on June 22, 2014, together with other sites along the ancient Silk Road.
This whole scenic area includes the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, the Da ci'en Temple, and the various squares with the statue of Monk Xuanzang standing in the middle, gardens and other facilities around.
Pls Note: Tourist should pay additionally to get into the pagoda. Entrance ticket of the temple does not include the pagoda fee, although the pagoda is in the middle of the temple.
Built between 1374 and 1378, making it over 600 years old, the existing ancient Xi'an City Wall is the most well-preserved, most complete oldest city wall that has survived in China, as well being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. Along the top of the wall is a walkway, which would typically take 4 hours to cover on foot.
Located in the center of Xi'an City, the ancient City Wall is rectangular in shape and has a total length of around 14 kilometers long. The wall encloses an area of about 14 square kilometres. The city wall measures 12 meters high, 15-18 meters wide at the base and 12-14 meters wide at the top. It has four main gates: Changle Gate in the east, Anding Gate in the west, Yongning Gate in the south and Anyuan Gate in the north.
There are 5948 battlements on the outer side of the city wall, once used by archers to defend against enemies. Ramparts are built at intervals of 120 metres (390 ft) , projecting from the main wall. About every 40 or 60 meters, there are water channels made of green bricks used for drainage. The channels were very important for long term protection of the wall. The Xi'an City Wall is a complete and perfected defense system including a moat, suspension bridge, draw bridge and turrets.
The Xi'an City Wall is on the tentative list of UNESCO's World Heritage Site under the title "City Walls of the Ming and Qing Dynasties".
Pls Note: Tourists can rent and ride a bicycle on the Wall.
Shaanxi History Museum
Shaanxi Province is one of the important areas where Chinese nation lived and multiplied and also one of the cradles and development places of Chinese civilization. The rich cultural legacy and profound cultural heritage formed the Shaanxi unique historical cultural features. Built in 1983 and opened to the public on 20 June 1991, Shaanxi History Museum is China’s first large-scale modern national museum. The museum houses over 370,000 precious relics which were unearthed in Shaanxi Province, including bronze wares, pottery figures, and mural paintings in Tang tombs, as well as bronze, gold, and silver objects, dating from the simple stone that human used at the initial stage in ancient times down to all kinds implements in social life before 1840; the time span covers more than one million years. The cultural relics are rich in number and types and have high grade and wide value, among which Shang Dynasty bronze is exquisite; terracotta figurines of past dynasties are of varied types and postures; gold and silver ware of Han and Tang Dynasty is unique across the country; wall paintings of Tang tomb have no equals in this world. It is called a collection of variety of boutiques carnival.
The museum is with a building area of 55,600 square meters, exhibition halls of 11,000 square meters. The Museum has the style of Tang dynasty buildings of “central palace hall with four worship houses around” with orderly, harmonious, vigorous and grave construction, with a combination of traditional architecture and modern technology, which embodies folk tradition and local features.
(Please note: The Museum is closed on every Monday.)
Muslim quarter in Xi’an
Covering many blocks and inhabitated by over 20,000 Muslims, Muslim quarter is a very large area of well-preserved old Xi'an streets, alleyways with some elaborate Mosques, ancient courtyards, local specialty stores, local food restaurants, a vegetable market, a bird and flower market (also sell goldfish and turtles) in the current middle west old Xi'an city, by the side of the Bell Tower and Drum Tower, the landmark of Xi'an. There are around ten mosques in the area, among which the Great Mosque in the Huajue Lane is the most famous and popular.
Muslim food and souvenir market is another feature of the area. The Beiyuanmen Muslim Market located just to the north of the Drum Tower is a great choice after the sightseeing in the city center. About 500 meters in length from south to north, this street is paved with dark colored stone and green trees providing heavy shade during summer. The buildings on both sides of the street are modeled on the styles of both the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasties (1644-1911). Some of the constructions are restaurants; while others are stores. But here there is one thing in common: the owners are all Muslims.
It is stated that once you have been to the Beiyuanmen Muslim Street, you won't feel regretted for the snacks of Xian. Crumbled Unleavened Bread in Mutton Stew (Yangrou Paomo) is a very distinctive snack of Xian, and is extremely delicious. Fried rice with pickled Chinese cabbage and little capsicum is extremely savoury. And it is a real enjoyment for you to eat it on a hot summer's day. Roast beef, mutton or lamb is another snack that can make your mouth water. After broiling on a charcoal fire with some flavorings on the meat, it is ready for you to enjoy. While the most famous snack on this street is the steamed stuffed bun of Jiasan. The main ingredients of the steamed stuffed bun here are beef or mutton mixed with the soup decocted from the bones of sheep or cattle.
There are also fruit pies made with persimmon here which are considered as the unique refreshment in Xian. These pies take the bright red, glittering and translucent persimmons from the Lintong District of Xian City as the basic ingredients. When making the pies, firstly people will get rid of the skin of the persimmons, pounding the flesh, mixing it with flour, then putting the sweet-scented osmanthus and white sugar inside as the stuffing, then frying them in oil until they are cooked. When eating them, you will feel savory, sweet and soft.
There are also a great many other snacks to be found along this street, such as preserved meat, casserole, various noodles, and so on. They are waiting for you to enjoy.
Walking along the twisted, narrow streets in this area which is aligned with stores on both sides, you can see that Muslim men with white hats sit inside the stores and talk leisurely with each other. In front of the doors of some stores, old men with white beards sit on the cane chairs enjoying the tender touch of the sun and having fun with the little children running along the street.
The area is well worth exploring, if not for all the sights, scents and noises, then for the intriguing window into Chinese culture it offers.
Banpo Neolithic Village Museum
Located around 18 km east from the center of Xi'an and discovered in 1953, the Neolithic Village of Banpo is a typical matriarchal community of the Yangshao Culture in the Neolithic Age. This archaeological site contains the remains of several well organized Neolithic settlements carbon dated to 5600–6700 years ago. At that time, the Banpo people used tools made primarily of wood and stone. Women, the crucial labor force, were responsible for making pottery, spinning, and raising the family, while men fished.
The area of 5 to 6 hectares (12 to 15 acres) is surrounded by a ditch, probably a defensive moat, 5 to 6 meters (16 to 20 ft) wide. The houses were circular, built of mud, supported by timber poles and with steeply pitched thatched roofs. Many of the houses were semi-subterranean with the floor typically 1 meter (3 ft) below the ground surface. There appear to be communal burial areas. 5 excavations between 1953 and 1957 have unearthed about a fifth of the total village (about 10,000 square meters). As the first museum at the prehistoric sit, the onsite Banpo Museum was opened in 1958.
Banpo Museum is divided into two Exhibition Halls and a Site Hall.
The Stele Forest
Steles are huge stone slabs which depict important calligraphic writing, often dating back to ancient times. They are held in high regard in China and many people study the artistry of these mammoth pieces.
The Stele Forest is a museum for steles and stone sculptures. The museum is in the former Confucian Temple and the building was first built to preserve the Thirteen Classics of Filial Piety which were engraved during the Tang Dynasty. This Museum has housed a growing collection of Steles since 1087, altogether, there are 3,000 steles in the museum, which is divided into 7 exhibitions halls, mainly display works of calligraphy, painting and historical records. Most of its exhibits are steles of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) . Ink rubbings of the steles are available for sale.
Exhibition Hall One mainly displays the text of twelve Confucian classics carved on 14 steles. The twelve works including the Analects of Confucius, Books of Changes, Books of Songs and some others. These twelve classics are must-be readings for intellectuals of China's feudal society. The stones were engraved over thousands of years ago when the printing was not yet invented. In order to well preserve these works and pass down to the later generations, the rulers ordered to carved them down on these stones.
It is a professional art museum which collects, studies and displays various Steles and stone sculptures. If you are interested in Chinese art and calligraphy, there are many interesting objects on display here. If not, possibly give this one a miss!
An ink rubbing of one of the calligraphy stela at the Museum, called the "God of Literature Pointing the Dipper." It depicts the figure, made up of the characters describing the four Confucian virtues, "pointing the dipper" (an expression for coming first in the imperial civil service examinations).
Hanyangling Museum (mausoleum for Han dynasty emperor Liu Qi, completed in 126 BC)
Situated near Wei River in the northern suburb of Xi`an city, Han Yang Ling Mausoleum is the historical site designated for state protection. This mausoleum which combines modern technology, ancient civilization, historical culture and garden scenery, is built at the base of the joint tomb of Emperor Jindi and his Empress. It is the largest museum in China.
Emperor Jindi (188BC—141BC), named Liu Qi, was the fourth Emperor of the Western Han Dynasty. Emperor Jindi, together with his father Emperor Wendi, started a golden era of harmony in the early feudal society, which was later regarded as “the Great Reign of Wen and Jin”. 30 odd years of excavation shows that the Yangling Mausoleum is mainly composed of the Emperor and Empress` graveyards, southern and northern burial pits, ritual building, the satellite and criminal`s graveyards, and Yangling town. The emperor`s tomb is surrounded by 81 burial pits radiating from the central mound. A 110-meter wide Sacred Road, flanked by 10000 odd satellite tombs of ancient high officials, leads directly to Yangling Town. This scene is similar to ancient morning court held by the emperor. Objects unearthed from the 200 odd burial pits include armored warrior figures with weapons, elegant palace maids with Han costumes, countless animals with vivid expressions. This mausoleum is considered to represent the ancient burial custom, “ to attend to the dead as if to attend to the living”. It is the most intact royal mausoleum and the most important tangible document in the research of burial customs and civilization of the Han Dynasty.
Covering an area of about 86,667 square meters and located 120 kilometers to the west of Xi'an, it was widely regarded as the "ancestor of pagoda temples in Guanzhong".
The spot is made up of the Square of Mountain Gate, the Avenue of Buddha Anticorona, the Famen Temple, the Heshi Dagoba, Buddhist College, gardens…fully showing the achievements of Chinese Buddhism in philosophy, politics, arts, etc.
Constructed at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25AD-220AD), Famen Temple gained its fame in the Northern Wei Dynasty (368-534), rose up in the Sui Dynasty (581-618), reached to its heyday in Tang Dynasty (618-907) and hailed as "Royal Temple". The temple is known and respected for a Buddhist sacred land where the phalanx sarira of Sakyamuni (founder of Buddhism) was enshrined and worshiped.
On 16 Oct 2014, the World Fellowship of Buddhists held its 27th General Conference in the temple marking a milestone as it's the first time the conference is held in China.
In May 2009 the Shaanxi government finished constructing the first phase of a much larger complex in addition to the Famen Temple. With an area of 150 areas the new "Famen Temple Cultural Scenic Area" added 150 acres (0.61 km2) to the temple complex. The most obvious feature of the new complex is the 148-meter-high Namaste Dagoba and vault – the highest Buddhist Dagoba in the world.
The true finger bone sarira of the Buddha Sakyamuni
According to Buddhist sutras, 1 parietal bone, 1 phalanx, 2 shoulder blades, 4 teeth and many spherical sariras were found after the cremation ceremony of Sakyamuni. Some of them were brought to China during Tang Dynasty and enshrined in grand temples. Eight of the Tang emperors invited the phalanx sarira to the imperial palace to enshrine and worship for six times. After the last invitation in 847, this sarira was sealed up in the underground underneath the pagoda and did not revealed to the world until 1987.
From 5–12 May 1987, after the opening of an underground palace, four relics claimed to be directly related to Buddha were found. Two of these were made of white jade. The third relic was from a famous monk. These three are called "duplicate relics". They were placed together with a "true relic" in order to protect them. The true relic is yellow-colored, with bone-like secretory granules. It was declared by expert to be a finger bone of the Buddha Sakyamuni. Thereafter, Famen Temple became a Buddhist place of pilgrimage due to the discovery of what is claimed as a true relic of Buddha.
The finger bone was preserved in the last of eight boxes, each enclosing the others, each wrapped in thin silk. The outer box was in sandalwood and had rotted away, but the smaller boxes were in gold, some in silver, and one in jade, and were in a good state of preservation. Each box had a silver lock and was exquisitely carved.
The true relic is exactly the same as the description by Tang dynasty Buddhist DaoXuan and other Tang dynasty records.
About 80 kilometers northwest of the city of Xi’an, built by 684 (with additional construction until 706), this mausoleum complex is for the 3rd emperor of Tang dynasty Li Zhi, who was later known as Gaozong (r. 649–83), and his empress, Wu Zetian, who usurped the Tang throne and became China's only reigning female emperor from 690–705. Qianling is the most typical and best preserved of all the 18 Tang mausoleums. It is renowned for its many Tang dynasty stone statues located above ground and the mural paintings adorning the subterranean walls of the tombs. Besides the main tumulus mound and underground tomb of Emperor and his wife, there are 17 smaller attendant tombs or peizang mu. Presently, only five of these attendant tombs have been excavated by archaeologists, three belonging to members of the imperial family, one to a chancellor, and the other to a general of the left guard.
Located on the peak of lofty Liangshan Mountain, of the three peaks in the Mausoleum, the north peak, where the real emperor tomb is located, is the highest. The two peaks in the south opposite each other, east to west. The folk call the two peaks “Nipple Hills”. On each of the two peaks stands a watch tower made of earth. The holy way is in the middle of the Nipples and towards the tomb of emperor and his wife.
Besides there are three famous satellite tombs of Qianling Mausoleum-the tomb of Princess Yong Tai, the tomb of Crown Prince Zhang Huai and the tomb of Crown Prince Yi De. A lot of murals were discovered. They can be regarded as masterpieces of painting from Tang dynasty.
Mt. Hua (or Huashan Mountain) is a mountain located about 120 kilometres (75 mi) east of Xi'an. It is the western mountain of the Five Great Mountains (or Five Holy Taoist Nountains) of China, and has a long history of religious significance. The 2,154-meter-tall mountain, true to its reputation as the "most precipitous mountain under heaven", is a cluster of five peaks with breathtaking cliff faces and a tough challenge to walkers. Mt. Hua is popularly known by tourists as the "Most Dangerous Hiking Trail in the World" because even though the climb does not require any technical climbing skills, the trail contains a few steep ascents with cliff-like staircases and two optional via ferratas. Hua was historically the location of several influential Taoist monasteries, and was known as a center for the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts.
Best time to go and What to pack:
Generally speaking, Xi'an can be visited all year around. While based on the weather condition, the best time to travel Xi'an is spring (Mar. to May) and autumn (Sep. to Oct.), which you can avoid the cold winter and hot summer.
In Spring and Autumn, long pants, one or two jackets and sweaters are necessary. But in the 2nd half of May, some day the highest temperature can be as high as 37 degree Centigrade. But the lowest can be only 14 Degree centigrade.
In Summer, for it can be very hot, bring light clothes such as T-shirts, shorts, and skirts. Take an umbrella. Hat, sunglasses, long-sleeve shirts, and sun cream may be needed to protect yourself from getting sunburned.
In Winter, prepare wool sweaters, down jackets, thick pants, hat, gloves, and an umbrella. A mask might be needed to protect your nose on windy days.
The low travel cost season: November–March is cold but cheaper.
Avoid the summer vacation crowds and heat: Skip the early mid June to late August period.
Least desirable travel periods: Spring Festival (around late January or early to mid February), Labor Day holiday (1–3 May) and National Day holiday (1–7 October). Millions of Chinese are on the move during the three holidays.
What to eat in Xi'an at Muslim Quarter
Xi'an, Shaanxi capital's array of noodles, breads and dumplings are the tastiest way to be transported back to ancient China.
Once the starting point of the Silk Road, Xi'anese cuisine doesn't just have one of the world's longest culinary histories but one of the richest too.
The city was home to various religions during the Tang Dynasty, and a range of cultures have helped shape Xi'an cuisine, with Islamic influence being particularly strong.
The city's Muslim Quarter has become food heaven for locals and tourists alike.
Bread-shredding can be a bonding moment in Xi'an. If one dish could represent Xi'an, locals would tell you it'd be without doubt Crumbled Unleavened Bread in Mutton Stew (yangrou paomo) -- an aromatic, tasty and spicy bowl of shredded flatbread soaked in mutton broth.
Eating a paomo is a uniquely relaxing exercise and here's the right way to do it. To start with, you'll be served two pieces of unleavened flatbread -- or "mo" in Chinese -- in a bowl.It's now your job to tear the bread into pieces as small as soybeans. The process can be laborious but locals believe mo tastes much better when hand-pulled. More importantly, it's the time for locals to sit together and trade gossip.
Then, you should return the bowl and your mo crumbles will be cooked in mutton soup with rice vermicelli until the bits are fully soaked in soup and flavor. The stew will be topped with slices of lamb or beef of your choice and -- like what every local would do -- pickled sweet garlic is added to complete the dish.
But now in Beiyuanmen Street, many restaurants serve the Crumbled Unleavened Bread in Mutton Stew (yangrou paomo) with the pieces bread "mo" in order to make it easy to be tasted. It is because to tear the very hard dry bread in very little pieces is really a tough job for a normal tourist.
Sharing chuan'er with friends while drinking beer late at night is a lifestyle for Xi'anese. A small skewer are addictive at little additional cost. It's not absurd for two people to order -- no kidding, it's totally normal -- 100 skewers of beef or lamb fully coated in chili pepper and cumin powder.
Pomegranate juice (shiliuzhi)
When pomegranate stands pop up in every corner of the city, you know autumn has arrived. Pomegranate is a local fall specialty, most famously from Lintong, where the Terracotta Army is. The freshly extracted pomegranate juice goes great with kebabs.
Xi'an meat burger (roujiamo)
It's like a hamburger, but with a much longer history. There are just two critical elements for a roujiamo -- baked leavened bread and shredded braised meat. A good jiamo should be baked using a traditional furnace instead of an electric oven. Meat -- usually a mixture of fat and lean pork that has been braised for hours -- should be hand-shredded and pocketed in the bread. There is also a choice for lean-meat-only pork jiamo -- a little chewier than the usual ones. The best roujiamo can be found in the Muslim Quarter where the filling is either lamb or beef.
Cold noodles (liangpi)
Xi'an's happy meal. Roujiamo has an inseparable BFF -- liangpi, or cold noodles. Together with a bottle of local soda Ice Peak, the trio makes a beloved Xi'an Combo, as locals call it. As the name suggests, "cold noodles" are made by cooking thinly sliced rice noodles, then setting them aside until cooled. The most basic way to serve cold noodles is drizzled with a sauce of chili oil, pepper powder, vinegar and diced garlic, topped with bean sprouts and sliced cucumber. The taste is spicy and the texture silky.
Where to: Wherever Roujiamo is sold, there'll be cold noodles.
Steamed beef and wheat powder (fenzhengrou)
You can hardly miss the special spicy meat aroma wafting in the narrow, crowded alley in the Muslim Quarter. It is said there are 23 herbs, spices and seasonings used in the dish, and the preparation takes up to seven hours. It's best to eat the dish hot with a special kind of tea Ma brews -- a mix of flower and black tea to neutralize the grease of the beef.
Hot and sour soup dumpling (suantang shuijiao)
Dumplings can be found all across China but you can only get the authentic taste of mutton dumplings bathing in hot and sour soup in Shaanxi. This dish is abundant in taste. Sesame seeds, minced leek and cilantro add a flavorful kick to the soup. The aftertaste lingers so long that it's unforgettable.
Xi'an is crazy for noodles -- from narrow to wide, from cold to hot, from egg noodles to spinach noodles -- as long as they're hand-stretched.
Here on the Guanzhong Plain where rain isn't abundant throughout the year, wheat is the main crop in the region instead of rice. Of the most popular noodles, Biangbiang noodles are famous mostly because of their unique name. The word is onomatopoetic: It mimics the sound of flour dough hitting the counter when being stretched. The noodles, named one of the "10 strange wonders of Shaanxi," are described as thick and wide as a belt (similar to pappardelle). They're also very long -- one noodle can easily fill up a whole bowl. The noodle is very savory and chewy -- thanks to the eggs and oil added in the flour dough. The most common Biangbiang noodles are often served with vinegar and topped with lots of red-hot peppers, diced garlic and boiled baby bok choy. Heated oil will be added before serving. A fancier version would be topped with braised meats and assorted vegetables.
Glutinous rice and date cake (zenggao)
Sweet but not sugary, it's a typical breakfast food. Layers of glutinous rice, dates, and kidney beans are sealed overnight in a special ancient earthen utensil called a zeng, and most restaurants only sell one batch a day. It looks like a glazed layered cake, smells fruity and sweet, and the bite is springy. It tastes especially fresh after feasting on all the meats and noodles you can sample around town.
Soupy dumpling (tangbao)
While most people in the world would call soup dumplings a Shanghai special, Xi'an people would beg to disagree. They'll tell you they have the better tangbao. The Xi'an version with lamb or beef -- instead of pork like its Shanghainese counterpart -- wobbling inside paper-thin wrappers is sheer heaven for locals, and possibly for everyone else. The city even has its own special vinegar and chili dip for having with its tangbao. And be careful not to burn your mouth -- the soup inside is extremely hot.