Chinese pork burger at Old Xian’s Food. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
The “Chinese hamburger” may be having a moment.
In Richmond, led by the Chinese burger, it’s the food of Western China that’s having a moment. While many Richmond Chinese eateries feature foods from China’s southern and eastern regions, flavours of Shaanxi, Xinjiang, and the other western provinces have been harder to find.
No more. This week, we’re going west—to China’s western districts—with these five dishes to try, Chinese hamburgers included.
Old Xian’s Food on Alexandra Road. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
Roujiamo, a.k.a. Chinese Hamburgers
If you don’t think a burger and a bowl of slippery cold noodles makes a perfect autumn lunch, then perhaps you haven’t been to Old Xian’s Food.
At this compact window-lined eatery on the second floor of an Alexandra Road strip mall, nearly every table has some version of this meat-on-bread and bowl-of-pasta combination.
The most popular is the Chinese Pork Burger ($4.75), the traditional roujiamo. It looks like an English muffin without the crevices, stuffed with tender shredded pork flavoured with soy and the liquorice notes of star anise (seen in the first photo, above).
The restaurant also makes versions of these buns stuffed with lamb or beef. You can get the bread just plain, too, for dipping into soup.
Mount Qi pork noodles at Old Xian’s Food. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
Qishan Spicy Sour Noodles
Roujiamo are often paired with liangpi, cold noodles topped with spicy chili paste and shredded cucumber. For a chilly day, though, the Spicy and Sour Pork Noodles ($7.95) at Old Xian’s Food may feel more restorative.
In this dish named for Shaanxi’s Qishan county, fresh chewy noodles are heaped with carefully chopped cubes of pork, potatoes, carrots, green beans and tofu, along with some shredded cabbage for crunch. The sauce has a vinegary tang, and a slow chili heat gradually spreads through your mouth as you slurp up your noodles.
Silkway Halal Cuisine on Richmond’s Saba Road. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
Fried Lamb with Xinjiang Naan
It’s Saturday night, and a multicultural mélange of customers fills the carved wooden chairs at Silkway Halal Cuisine. Women in colourful headscarves. Groups of youths sipping cans of coconut drinks. Big families clustered around polished round tables, piled with plates of cumin-scented lamb.
Fried lamb with diced Xinjiang lamb at Silkway Halal Cuisine. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
While lamb may not be as common in other parts of China, in far-west Xinjiang province, where many inhabitants are Muslim, lamb replaces forbidden pork in many dishes.
It’s widely eaten across China in the northern and western regions too, where street vendors sell skewers of grilled lamb, redolent of cumin.
You can get these skewers at Silkway Halal, although you can also try lamb in a more unique preparation. Fried Sliced Lamb with Diced Xinjiang Naan ($16.95) is just as the same suggests: cubes of lamb stir-fried in a peppery-cumin mix and tossed with similarly fried cubes of flatbread. The bread almost melts into the meat, like a Thanksgiving stuffing gone spicy.
Big Plate Chicken
The server comes to the table with a large bowl that barely contains the stew swimming inside. It’s what Silkway Halal calls Braised Chicken, Xinjiang Style ($17.95), though its Chinese name, dapanji, is more descriptive: Big Plate Chicken.
Big Plate Chicken at Silkway Halal Cuisine. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
In this traditional dish from Xinjiang province, chunks of on-the-bone chicken, green peppers, and potatoes braise in a mildly spicy tomato sauce infused with star anise, cumin and chilies.
The server brings a separate plate of broad flat noodles ($3) and dumps them into the stew, tossing until the white pasta shines red from the peppery sauce. You can have the chicken without the noodles, but why?
Xinjiang-style naan at Silkway Halal Cuisine. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
Where southern and eastern China grows rice, the north and west are wheat-raising regions, giving rise to buns, breads, and in Xinjiang, a baked flatbread resembling a South Asian naan.
At Silkway Halal, this crisp, puffy, sesame seed-topped bread is an essential accompaniment to many dishes, particularly the stewy Big Plate Chicken. You’ll want to use that naan to mop up every bit of the sauce.
Want more of the west?
Other places to sample western Chinese dishes in Richmond include Beijiang Restaurant (in the same Alexandra Road mall as Old Xian’s Food), as well as Xi’an Cuisine and Xinjiang Delicious Food in the Richmond Public Market. R&H Chinese Food in the Lansdowne Centre makes roujiamo, as does O’Tray Noodle in President Plaza.