The lure of freshly grilled or grilling meat is almost always irresistible. It was no different on Muslim Street in Xi’an, where stall after stall offer local delicacies prepped for the tens of thousands of tourists who walk its length daily. I am told that few if any locals would ever eat here, but this was our first evening, so we were doing the touristy thing. The lines for grilled lamb skewers were often 20-30 folks long, so we took this as a sign of a good thing.
Chunky pieces of mutton are skewered on fresh branches (I never found out from what tree) and grilled over coals. The meat is heavily spiced with cumin, chili, szechuan peppercorns and other spices. It is fragrant, looks terrific and is freshly cooked, all of the hallmarks of to die for noshing.
It was NOT particularly good. So long lines are NOT always a good sign. The wooden sticks burn and that doesn’t enhance the meat. The mutton is chewy, tough and fatty, with an occasional bit of cartilage(?) somehow included. The spices were delicious and assertive but they needed much better meat (or a tenderizing marinade), and perhaps a smaller skewer. The same recipe executed on better cut or selected lamb on metal skewer would have been fabulous.
Not to worry, there was LOTS of other wonderful items to sample and we just headed to next interesting stall or two or three…