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  • Writer's pictureBianca

Xi'an's Famous Foods: My Fave 5

Updated: Oct 9, 2022

Xi'An is home to countless famous Chinese dishes, a fact I was clueless about prior to moving to China in 2018. Back home, one of my absolute favorite casual eating joints was Xi'An Famous Foods, so when I traveled to the city in 2020 and the connection between the two finally clicked in my head (I know, 2 years is an embarrassingly long time to make the association) I knew I had to eat EVERYTHING. After eating my way through a handy list of dishes unique to this cultural hub, I landed on my top five must haves:


1. 羊肉泡馍 (yángròu pào mó)

This dish changed my life!! It's a lamb soup known for the tiny pieces of a very doughy pita bread that are broken up and tossed into the broth to absorb the flavor. You'll usually find it made with glass noodles, mushrooms, spring onions, and a side of garlic so you can add to taste. They say it's best to have in the evenings, but it was so good I woke up with it on my mind and had it for breakfast most of the days I was there!

A bowl of lamb soup with small chunks of pita bread. A small bowl of raw garlic on the side.
Xi'An Famous Food #1A - 羊肉泡馍 (yángròu pào mó)

You can enjoy this dish in two ways. The first option is to get a fresh pita bread and break it up yourself into an empty bowl which you'll hand over to the chef. Then patiently wait for your soup to be ready.

Option two is just to get the soup with the pita already broken up into it for you. I wasn't given the option to do it myself any of the times I had it most likely because they assumed I wouldn't know what to do with the pita. I'm impatient anyhow, so I didn't mind. But if you do want to do it yourself, locals recommend tearing up the pita as small as you can for *peak* broth absorption.


For the spicy lovers out there, ask for 小炒泡馍 (xiǎochǎo pào mó), a hotter take on this soup with a few more veggies added. I love both versions of the lamb soup, but still dream about the spicy one to this day.

A bowl of spicy lamb soup with small chunks of pita bread. Side of orange soda in a glass bottle.
Xi'An Famous Food #1B - 小炒泡馍 (xiǎochǎo pào mó)

Where to get it: 刘信牛样肉泡沫 (Liuxin Niuyangrou Paomo); 洒金桥129号(老关庙什字旁) (129 Sajinqiao road [next to Laoguan Temple])

Cost: ~20rmb/$2.95 USD


2. 胡辣汤 (hú là tāng)

Literal translation - soup with pepper. An apt descriptor of this very simple, yet super hearty meatball soup. The sichuan pepper gives it a bit of a kick as well as adds a numbing sensation. There are loads of veggies in hula tang from carrots and cabbage to spring onions and vegetables I couldn't tell you the name of.


This is probably one of the most unique soups that I have ever had. At first glance, the broth was extremely gooey and definitely unlike the texture I would typically think of for a soup to have. Actually...I'm not sure I've ever considered the texture of soup.

I was reluctant to try it based on appearance, but I was on a mission to try all the foods so I sucked it up and bought a bowl and boy am I glad I did! It was reminiscent of a winter stew that I would have at home and perfect for the below freezing temperatures at the time.


Where to get it: 好再来肉丸子胡辣汤 (Hao Zailai Rou Wanzi Hu La Tang); 庙后街与大麦市街交汇十字的东北角 (Intersection of Miaohou Street and Damaishi Street)

Cost: ~8rmb/$1.18 USD


3. 柳巷面 (liǔ xiàng miàn)

Also called gungun noodles, these are delicious savory noodles are hand pulled right in front of you - so you know they're fresh! Pretty much every bowl of 柳巷面 will feature tasty chunks of beef and a variety of vegetables (cabbage, carrots, potato, etc.). The one that I tried was quite simple with only the beef chunks and bok choy all coated with a delicious peppery sauce that made my taste buds sing. I was still stuffed by the end of my meal, despite it not having many ingredients.

a bowl of thick hand-pulled noodles with vegetables, covered in a spicy sauce
Xi'an Famous food #3 - 柳巷面 (liǔ xiàng miàn)

Where to get it: 吉庆巷吉庆大夏B座 (Jiqing Lane Jiqing Daxia Block B)

Cost: 10rmb/$1.47 USD


4. 羊肉串 (yángròu chuàn)

Due to the large population of Hui Chinese, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority, beef and lamb dishes are king in this city. While skewers of various kinds are popular all over China, Xi'an is especially well known for their juicy lamb skewers.


You can enjoy them plain or have the street vendor toss on some chili flakes for extra spice. Either way, it'll be packed with flavor and you won't be disappointed. The amount of meat on the skewers in most places is pretty small, so typically there is a minimum order of 5. You can easily order 20 and not be too full! (Some of the spots have larger skewers but may still have the minimum order).


A pair of hands holding six lamb skewers over a grill in the background. Several raw skewers in the foreground.
Xi'an Famous Food #4 - 羊肉串 (yángròu chuàn)















Where to get it: Pretty much every street corner! I recommend heading to the Muslim Quarter for the best skewers.

Price: ~2rmb per skewer/$0.29 USD per skewer


5. Biángbiáng Miàn

No list of Xi'an foods could be complete without biang biang noodles! The Chinese character for this noodle dish is infamous for being the most complex of the Chinese characters - so complex there isn't even a way for me to type it out on a computer, so you'll have to look it up to see for yourself.

So what does biáng mean? Absolutely nothing! This character solely exist for the purpose of naming these noodles.


A blue bowl of flat hand-pulled noodles and vegetables, covered with a hearty portion of beef.
Xi'An Famous Food #5 - Biángbiáng Miàn

These super long noodles are named for the sound they make when being pulled and smacked on the table to create their signature length and flat shape. There are many styles of biang biang noodles, but I opted for the beef version. My bowl had large chunks of beef, carrots, dikon radish, tofu, chili paste, celery, and a HEFTY serving of cilantro (cilantro haters, consider yourself forewarned) all topped with sesame seeds. To say this dish was filling would be an understatement to say the least. I'm surprised they didn't have to roll me out of the restaurant.

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