china, terracotta warriors and a simple bowl of noodles
Your on a bus to the mostly middle of China, X'ian that is. To see the terracotta warriors. An impressive collection of life size clay soldiers created to be placed in Qin Huang, the first Emperor of China. Before getting there we get taken to a small place that shows how the statues were created. The molding, the sculpting, the clay, etc. Like most stops, it's really only a slightly interesting place designed to eventually sell you something, like a small or even life size replica of one. A bit too big for our SF apartment, so I passed this time.
We were then taken upstairs to a place to eat. It was one of those standard buffets they create where the food is still Chinese, just created in a "Western friendly" way, whatever that means. However, off to the side was a more intriguing option that only cost us 10 yuan. That's about $1.60. All neatly pressed in whites with chef hat and apron, this gentleman would make you a bowl of noodles from scratch.
First he rolled out the dough into one long log to start working with.
Then he began to spin the dough in circles like a rubber band. As he was doing this, he somehow started separating the dough into long stringy noodles. It was kind of like magic, actually, it was cooking magic. We watched him do this several times to try and see how it was done, but he was so fast and specific, we just couldn't tell.
Next thing you know, he has several long strings of freshly rolled noodles. Exactly enough to make into a bowl.
He then gives them a quick bowl in hot steaming water. Then puts them in a bowl and covers them with hot broth and small pieces of thinly sliced beef.
We add in a few of our own touches like red pepper oil, green onion and cilantro...then voila! You get a hot bowl of noodles made from scratch in what amounts to only a few minutes and a few bucks.
Besides the duck and scattered cookies, most of the main dishes we'd had so far were not exactly good and sometimes downright inedible. This, however, was our first real taste of something that exuded freshness. The flavors were brighter and spicier than a lot of the previous food. The broth was a light chicken stock with some nice saltiness. The beef cooked up tender in the hot broth. The noodles were a perfectly cooked texture that wasn't quite al dente, but still hearty enough to not be either mush or chewy. And even though it looks like tons, we didn't really overload it with the chili oil. It was more scattered drops to add a little kick.
One wishes all the food in China were this simple and tasty, but it is a big country and like the US you are going to your good and your bad. While this X'ian Pottery Co. place itself isn't really worth a visit (you can get just as good knock-offs of the warriors from street vendors for a few bucks) I will say if they keep this noodle guy, it could be one of those surprise off the beaten track kind of places. Like waayyy off the track.
Who knows, maybe the previous days had soured us so bad on the food we just clung to anything even remotely different and flavorful. Me, I want to think this was a surprise find that reinvigorated us and gave us hope for the rest of the trip. We had another 12 or 13 days to go, so I held to the memory of those noodles to gird my taste buds for whatever lay ahead.