In Xi’an, they like their noodles thick. Really thick. This northwestern Chinese city in Shaanxi Province is the home of biang biang – fresh handmade noodles three fingers wide and as long as your arm. When tossed in oil mixed with roasted chilli, they make a fast, warm and filling bowl of cheap street food. The name is thought to come from the sound the noodles make as they are pulled out and loudly slapped on a flour dusted counter to stretch them further. Bang! Bang!
Down in Sydney’s Chinatown, Xi’an Biang Biang is dishing out bowls of these pappardelle-like fat noodles topped with either hot chilli, stewed pork or tomato and egg. For purists, choose straight chilli oil, a simple slick coating that dresses the noodles and pools just slightly in the bottom of the bowl. The chilli is a warming, roasted style with a slight vinegar edge – you won’t need a fire extinguisher. There’s a lot of noodle choices, but to get the real, fat version make sure you choose from 13 to 16 on the menu board – other numbers result in a thinner wheat noodle, usually served in soup.
Other northwestern noodle classics are liang pi – starchy, jelly-like cold noodles served in three styles, either with a simple chilli and vinegar coating; a hot and sour sauce; or with a garlic sauce that should not be consumed before an important meeting. Liang pi is a popular cold side dish, along with small snack plates of steamed fried chicken or pork, which are, as the name suggest, twice-cooked meats served sliced into thin pieces, crunchy on the outside and tender inside. You can also get slices of cold roasted and spiced beef or sticky and sweet pork ribs chopped into small bite-size pieces. Choose one or two to pick at with your noodles – they’re small serves, so you can indulge in a few at a time.
Biang biang noodles aren’t the only street food favourite here. What’s labeled as ‘burgers’ are better known in Xi’an as rou jia mo – crisp fried flat bread split and filled with a pile of braised and shredded pork with a hint of green chilli, or chilli coated noodles for a veg version. They end up closer to a kebab than a burger and the handheld snack is served in a small paper bag to catch the juicy meat that inevitably falls out as you bite into it. You’ve been warned.
For an all-in-one meal in a bowl, and something a little less spicy, pao mo soup replaces noodles with diced bread pieces, floating them in a homestyle meaty broth, adding a handful of diced carrot and celery and topping the lot with slices of roasted lamb, beef or braised pork innards (chitterlings). You might need to add a spoonful of chilli for additional heat if you miss it: this is a plain bowl of comfort.
But it’s the noodles that are the star here, bigger and fatter than average and impossible to eat politely. The chilli oil coating is guaranteed to leave a bright red smear across your numbed lips, while the ultra crisp rou jia mo and juicy pork filling will make you wonder why Chinese pulled pork hasn’t become a thing sooner. Bang on.