Thursday, July 19, 2012

Biang Biang Mian

In keeping with the noodle theme I've apparently been focusing on in my street food reviews lately, here's a dish notorious not so much for its taste but for its name. Specifically, the way the name is written. Biang Biang Mian is a traditional street food in Xi'an, and it uses one of the most ridiculously complex characters in the entire Chinese language. So complex that they haven't created a unicode version of it for computers--I have to use a picture.

Be glad you don't have to sign your checks with that.

Behold the character "biang!" It has 58 separate strokes, and requires most people to use mnemonic devices to remember how to write it (if they ever bother to write it at all). This is almost certainly the most complex character you will see in modern China. Several more complex characters exist, but they are archaic and virtually never seen. Biang, on the other hand, graces the signs on Xi'an store fronts selling Biang Biang Mian.

Nobody is really sure what the origin of this word is, but there are lots of fun folk etymologies floating around out there.

All right, enough about the name, the real question is how does it taste? For a food with such a ridiculously complicated name, it's actually very simple ingredient-wise.

The noodles are long and very wide (some people liken them to belts). They are served swimming in a chili-red oily soup with some mutton and chives. Like many spicy foods in China, the chili here is considered to keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer (due to the sweat). On a scale of 1 - 10, I would say the spice is no greater than a 6 or so, so if you don't get along with spicy foods, this might work for you.

The verdict? Simple, tasty, and filling. Great for lunch or dinner on a cold winter's day in Xi'an.


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