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Terracotta warriors, biang biang noodles, and other things you can't find in Shanghai Part I

Terracotta warriors, biang biang noodles, and other things you can't find in Shanghai Part I

It always seems that the more West one goes into China, the more starkly you feel that you have entered the East. Parts of western China seem trapped between the ravages of 1970s Russian communism and pre-1920s Chinese imperialism, and I sort of love that, because time and time again, trips out of Shanghai makes me realize that where we live is an oasis, that Shanghai so very little resembles the rest of China, and that there is still so much of China that I, to this day, haven’t really begun to understand.


We land in Xi’an at nearly midnight and walk across the needlessly spacious airport to find the cab stand, taking one, that runs on natural gas, not gasoline, directly into the walled city, past miles and miles of underdevelopment, smokestacks (raising the AQI with each exhale of the factory burn-off), grey fields, grey skies, and a landscape that demands a T.S. Eliot-like exposition.

Inside the walled city, we find old men on bicycles, fading facades, and blocks of hardware stores manned by sour-looking ayis. We settle down in our hotel and fall asleep by 2:30am.

The next morning, I am immediately hungry when I wake up and D and I venture into the Muslim district, where even at 10:30 in the morning, bits of lamb are skewered and roasted on makeshift propane grills while Russian techno blares from every direction.

In the Muslim district, we find:

  • 凉皮 - Liángpí noodles. Cold noodles topped with a heap of minced garlic, chili oil, sesame powder, and soaked in black vinegar.
  • Potato Tornados – as authentically Chinese as the ketchup the potato vendor smothers all over the nooks.
  • 水饺 – Pork, chive, and shrimp dumplings in thin broth.
  • Плов -A central asian rice dish of stewed lamb, carrots, onions, and rice, traditionally he entire lamb and for large celebrations.

What we don’t find are Biang Biang noodles, whose claim to fame is being one of the hardest characters to write, even in simplified Chinese  – Biang (简体).svgBiang (简体).svg – don’t try this at home, kids! 

Lips still tingling from Shaanxi chili oil, we leave the Muslim Quarter and head out to the city wall to grab a tandem and bike around it. I am too tired to write about the rest, so that’ll be for part II. But all in all, Xi’an is wonderful.





10 thoughts on “Terracotta warriors, biang biang noodles, and other things you can't find in Shanghai Part I”

  • I’m planning a transition to Shanghai later this year, but I have to admit, living in Shanghai wasn’t my first choice. It feels more like a world city than a Chinese city, and I feel like living there might mean I miss out on the pace of life in most of the rest of the country. I just hope that I’ll have many outings to the countryside as well! I still haven’t made it to Xi’an yet.

    • Ahh! I hope the transition goes well and I am happy to be a guide to Shanghai at any time 🙂

      Shanghai has a lot of European history, which I think really separates it from other cities. It’s very different because it has a preponderance of huge malls, but it’s also very western.

      The great thing about living here is that flights to other parts of China are extremely affordable. We flew to Xi’an for around 85USD round trip each and that was n’t very out of the ordinary.

      • Thanks! Shanghai certainly has a fascinating history, but it seems to put it in its own little world with a unique engagement with the rest of the world. I’ve been there a handful of times, but never for more than a few days at a time. As soon as I get a job situation figured out, I’ll be looking forward to the new lifestyle. Any tips on the job search and initial transition (paperwork, visas, VPN, etc.) would be great!

        Wow! I had some idea flights would be affordable, but I had no idea they’d be THAT affordable! I’ve been wanting to go to Sichuan for years, and that trip is looking closer already!

  • Russian techno in the Muslim quarter? They surely change the music each time I go there 🙂
    My in-laws just live few walking minutes away from it/ just a couple of sidestreets away from the west gate. Biang Biang is usually easy to find as there are also many places in the Muslim quarter offering them

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