THE ESSENCE OF CHINA: ALONG THE SILK ROAD TO XI-AN
It begins to hit you just what a vast country this is when you realise that, for all our travelling and train journeys, we were still in Sichuan Province.
But, not for much longer.
Another train journey (remember, we promised not to speak of them again) saw us arrive in the late afternoon in Xi-an, a former capital of Western China before the unification under the first emperor and gateway between China and the West along the legendary Silk Road.
For a lot of reasons the city felt very different from those we had visited before apart from, of course, the pollution, which still fugged the air like a heavy blanket and the difference was immediately noticeable in the food.
After a brief bit of orientation to find local laundries, supermarkets and internet cafes, I headed off to find Xi-an’s Muslim quarter. A legacy of its trading past, it comprises a few city blocks to the West of the Drum and Bell Towers, the city’s most famous landmarks and houses restaurants and shops selling a vast array of knock off merchandise.
The main reason to go, however, is the food and A quick stroll around the quarter soon found me face down in a bowl of cold noodles doused in sesame sauce and a bowl of Pao Moa a local soup made of mutton, broth and crumbled bread.
The other main reason to go to Xi-an is of course, to see The Terracotta Warriors. Now, I am not going to tell you the history. If you are so inclined, you can go and look it up on Google. I will tell you, however that it is just as impressive as you would imagine it to be, both in terms of the warriors themselves and the buildings in which they are housed.
I was, as you may have gathered by now, more interested in the food and that evening, our meal was slightly grim dumpling meal which saw us sitting between a table of people from Birmingham and a table from Oakland who made a toast to Starbucks. The food however was not bad with over 20 types of dumplings being brought to the table. A particular favourite being a slightly sweet version with walnuts
a few of us were still hungry and went of in search of rou jia mo, what are, to al intents and purposes, Chinese hamburgers. Pork is chopped with spices and then shaped in a patty before being served inside a flat bread with toppings of spiced vegetables. With a cold beer, they are an amazing treat and I had to go back to the well one more time and have another couple of the things.
The people in Xi-an certainly know how to have a good time and every evening they gather in one of the main squares to watch a fountain show which involves most of the kids running around beneath the showers getting soaking wet. Further along we came across another group of older people who get together every night to dance to a rythmic drum band.
If they know how to have a good time, they certainly don't know how to make wine. One of my travelling companions persuaded me to try a bottle of Great Wall Wine. One of the most disgusting think I have tasted ( wait until I get on to fermented horse's milk) No wonder they mix it with coke.
We were only in Xi-an for one more day before heading off to Beijing, so don’t have too much to write about it. It was a fun stop and my last lunch there saw a few of us head back to the Muslim Quarter to gorge on a whole leg of mutton with some flat bread to mop up the juices.
Just enough sustenance to last me the final train journey of this particular trip to Beijing.
Obviously, much more to tell about that in due course.
Oh, just in case you thought I had forgotten. Here is a little bit more wonderful "chinglish" for you all