I just came back from a visit to Xi’an and Beijing with my wife and younger son.
My friend Dr Chen Keyu’s hometown happens to be in Xi’an, though the Cardiff PhD lives in Singapore and seldom visits Xi’an nowadays but his dad, Chen Zhaopeng, a very highly regarded and famous calligrapher, and somewhat of a living national treasure of China, is a big kahuna in Xi’an. His official title is “The Inspector and Principle Secretary of Xi’an Federation of Literary and Art Circles.”
Mr Chen picked us up from the airport the night we arrived, and throughout our stay in Xi’an, arranged for our accommodation, meals and transportation and for museum directors and archaeologists to serve as our personal guides.
Our sojourn included visits to the terracotta warriors: an amazing army of 8000 life-size statues of soldiers and hundreds of chariots and horses buried with Qin Shihuang emperor, the first emperor to unite all China. They were discovered in 1974 by local farmers who were digging for wells.
But our Xi’an adventure all started with Mr Chen hosting us and a couple of local museum and archaeological luminaries to a welcome banquet the likes of which are seldom seen in Singapore. Eight-course meals are not uncommon where we come from, but this extraordinary feast in Xi’an was something else! There were at least 20 mouth-watering dishes! Beverages included cognac, the best Chinese baijiu (Wuliangye), tea, and to our surprise – milk! What a rare sight to see grown men and women drinking milk at dinner!
There were many exquisite and delicious dishes: pork, chicken, pigeon and beef, even sashimi done in ways that we are not normally done in Singapore. It is a wonderful experience to realize that what we interpret as Chinese cuisine in Singapore is so different from what people in Xi’an consider Chinese food! As the say “same same but different” and delightfully and pleasantly different! Click on each picture for an enlarged view and do keep a lookout for a fish I have never seen before, and unique only to that region. It is the platypus-looking duckbill fish, a lip-smacking (pardon the pun) fish with a mouth that resembles the bill of a duck and whose bones were later boiled with rice porridge to make yet another tasty dish: