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Shaanxi diner offers culinary taste treats

S hanghai does not lack Shaanxi-style restaurants, but it is not an easy job finding one that boasts both authentic and high-quality food as well as a fine dining environment.

Qin Yue Xuan, on the fourth floor of Shaanxi Business Hotel on Yan'an Road M, offers a variety of different Chinese cuisines such as Shaanxi-style snacks, classic Cantonese food and Huaiyang-style courses as well as Sichuan dishes.

The restaurant's decor is sumptuous and the service is efficient and comfortable and as it is located in the complex that houses Shaanxi government's office in Shanghai, it is considered an "official version" of the region's food style.

Shaanxi food is characterized by diversity and distinctive character. In general, pasta is the highlight of Guanzhong (central Shaanxi Province) snacks, mutton and dairy products dominate Shaanbei (northern Shaanxi Province) food, and fish and rice are features of Shaannan (southern Shaanxi Province) cuisine.

Qin Yue Xuan mainly provides Guanzhong cuisine, like the famous la zhi rou jia mo, or rou jia mo, which is Chinese Pancake with Stewed Pork (10 yuan/US$1.46). Considered China's answer to the Western hamburger and meat sandwich, rou jia mo could well be the world's oldest sandwich or hamburger, since the history of the bread dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) and the meat to the Zhou Dynasty (1045-256 BC).

An authentic rou jia mo has a unique flavor as the meat has been stewed for hours in a soup consisting of over 20 kinds of spices and seasonings.

The one I ordered in Qin Yue Xuan helped to fulfill my pangs about hometown food though the bread was not that chewy.

The meat was finely chopped, juicy and stuffed in mo (unleavened bread) which was very crispy.

Oil's spices

Hand-pulled Noodles with Oil (10 yuan) is highly recommended. This consists of wide, flat strips of noodles doused with hot spicy oil, the noodles absorbing all the flavors of the oil's spices.

A little vinegar balances the heavy flavor of the dish and makes it a good summer dish.

Fungus Mix of Fresh Walnut Kernel (34 yuan) is another special dish. Fresh walnut kernel, which has a different taste to dried walnuts, is very rare on the market.

There is not so much oil and fat in the fresh walnut so its distinctive taste is sweet and a little juicy.

Mixed with cabbage mustard and the fungal agaric and with salt and sesame oil added, it has high nutritional value.

Shaanxi cuisine is also very popular for its Islamic snacks, such as the famous yang rou pao mo, steamed bread dipped in mutton soup, and guan tang bao zi, steamed buns served with sauces inside.

But I want to recommend another Shaanxi specialty, Shui Pen Yang Rou which is Lamb Stew with Vegetables (15 yuan). This also uses a mutton soup as its base and is a delicious, mellow meal with a tantalising smell.

It is accompanied by wheat flour flat bread as well as sweet garlic to go with the soup.

The major difference between this dish and the famous yang rou pao mo is that for this one you put in tiny chunks of bread after the soup is served, but for yang rou pao mo, the bread and mutton soup are mixed together with an appropriate relish before serving.

I prefer the shui pen yang rou because you can better enjoy the mutton soup which is surprisingly smooth, mellow and quite tasty without the strong smell of mutton.

Beware, though, that if you have a business meeting or are mixing with friends, don't eat the sweet garlic with the soup, though they are a perfect match. The heavy flavor of the garlic will last a long time.

The final delicacy to consider in Qin Yue Xuan is North Shaanxi Cooked Rice with Sauce (28 yuan).

This dish looks in its presentation like Chinese traditional rice pudding that is usually served during the Spring Festival, but the main ingredient is millet instead of rice, one of the specialties of northern Shaanxi Province.

The texture is like rice dumplings, but the flavor is heavier than that as a result of the use of Chinese dates and honey. After it has been steamed, the millet becomes very sticky and tasty.


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