On our last day in Xian, Mrs. Marketman booked a private “food tour” with Ruixi of “The Lost Plate” tours. Mrs. MM did some internet research and scoured options and ended up with what turned out to be a fabulous choice. More on the tour later, straight onto our first stop after being picked up at our hotel in a “tuktuk”… About 10-15 minutes (slightly harrowing) drive later, nearing the Muslim quarter, we stopped at this nondescript roadside eatery, the first of several in a 3-hour tour. Don’t ask me for names, I couldn’t write it phonetically or copy the script if I was under fear of starvation. Suffice it so say this isn’t going to be too easy to find for a casual two-day tourist to the city.
There was a a large lone “pancake” cooling out front, right beside a wood chopping board. But there were several more being made inside the store, and we watched intently as these utterly exquisite savory pancakes were made from scratch.
First, an incredibly pliable dough (which at first I thought MUST be made with lard, but on second thought, near the Muslim quarter that seemed odd) was rolled out about 1/8th of an inch thick. Then ground beef was spread thinly over the dough, ground sichuan peppercorns and other spices sprinkled on and finally a generous pile of green onions or scallions were added. A mystery paste or sauce was spread on the other half of the dough (could this be some fat and ghee? No, maybe tallow with spices. They couldn’t say or wouldn’t say. :(
Then they rolled up the pancake in a manner that kept the meat and veg in the middle and then there were several layers of dough with fat in between. Think of it as croissant dough made a totally different way really. The end result is an incredibly flaky and tasty outer dough enveloping all the savoring goodness within.
It was utterly fascinating how pliable the dough was, and it stretched like you wouldn’t believe and never once ripped. The resulting buns looked like giant siopao’s and there was the heightened sense of anticipation as we realized we were going eat freshly made and cooked pancakes.
The dough oozing with fat of undetermined nature.
The pancakes put in a decades old press that cooks them from below and above. It took several minutes in this contraption and while it was oily, it wasn’t frying it oil…
The result looked like a giant hopia with a browned flaky exterior that was slightly greasy but not overly so. It was roughly 6 inches in diameter and hefty in weight. I think these were about a dollar or so for one piece. You can buy half of one if there is someone else in the vicinity who will buy the other half. We split one between three people since we were planning on eating all morning.
The pancake is cut into eight and served on a plate with a bunch of chopsticks.
There are tons of variants on this pancake throughout Xian. Long You Bing is a green onion stuffed pancake. Xian bing is a beef pancake. But this one seemed to have both so I can’t be sure what they called it. Here’s a homemade one in case you are ambitious… And here’s a 25 second video of how they actually shape the pancake in this particular shop…
Note the incredibly flaky pastry, the moist meat and veggies in the middle. Imagine the slight sting of sichuan peppercorns on your palate as you chew, and do this with your eyes closed as you reach the food equivalent of a climax. Yes, it was THAT GOOD. Hot, fresh, made in front of your eyes, cooked while you waited, and sliced and presented as you sat with heightened anticipation. All for a $1. And believe me, I could have eaten this whole pancake by myself. All of it. It was superb.
Just 15 minutes at this stop and back into our tuktuk to the next food discovery. We could have only done this with a guide (preferably with wheels), and “The Lost Plate” was a very good choice. They have tried hundreds of vendors and selected the best, they spoke the local language and fluent English, and they allowed us to experience the maximum exposure in the minimum amount of time. It cost approximately $100 for the two of us. And that included all the dishes we consumed (which couldn’t have cost more than $10-15).