Tasty and cheap Chinese eats
Despite still being reasonably satiated after yesterday's magnificent meaty feast at Golden Dawn, I was totally up for a day's recreational eating. I am here, I am hungry - let's eat!
We meet yesterday's host Simon Farrell-Green on the North Shore, at the Northcote Shopping Centre, and I note something extraordinary - almost the entire complex is populated with Asian eateries and food shops.
Bakeries and bun shops, butchers and fishmongers - not to mention noodle shops galore. Awesome.
We are meeting to have lunch at one of Simon's favourite recent cheap eats finds - the Xi'an Food Bar.
I want to try a couple of things in particular - the Chinese burgers and hand-pulled noodles. I also really want to get with the programme on Xi'an's extraordinary ordering system, which involves a wireless device that looks like a gigantic, ancient calculator.
We are also joined by my buddies J and Cousin A- Cousin A is full-term pregnant, so some very spicy noodles will probably help things along. I will drive a bit ruggedly, and perhaps we will pick her up a pineapple on the way home.
Xi'an is a city in the mid-north of China, with a large Muslim population - hence the uncommon Chinese food additions of things like lamb and cumin.
Simon talks us through the (massive) menu, and we order a couple of the "burgers" to try - a braised pork number, and a spicy, sweet tangy lamb. They are both pretty great - crispy, almost water-biscuit flavoured and textured buns that perfectly offset the succulent, juicy meat. They are $4.50 each - bargain.
Then - noodle time. I opt for hand pulled "biang biang" noodles with spicy braised pork, as do a couple of the others, while Plus One has something similar, but as a soup, and Cousin A goes for, naturally, the spiciest of the noodle dishes.
We also get a couple of sides - a celery and tofu dish, in chilli oil, and another that will be a bit more challenging - tripe and ox tongue.
The bowls of steaming noodles that arrive, as if by magic via the weird wireless calculator, are big and generous and hearty and flavourful - this is not a place for your orange beef, sweet and sour pork or salt and pepper squid.
Delicious - it's an over-used description of food, but these really are. The pork is soft and salty and perfectly accompanies the chewy, yielding roughly hand pulled noodles, along with bok choy, coriander and a heapin' helpin' o' that chilli oil that should help Cousin A's baby along - wouldn't that make a thrilling conclusion to this outing?!
I taste A's spicy noodles - they appear to be slathered in red chilli paste, but they are more tasty than just outrageously hot. P1's soup is also good - full of the aniseedy taste of star anise, along with the chilli and coriander.
As for the sides, the celery and tofu are light and fresh, and cut through the rich, savoury noodles, and the tripe and tongue is surprisingly good - tripe has an unusual, cartiledge-y quality, but carries the chili oil flavour well, and the tongue is rich and packs a big-flavoured punch.
My much-vaunted "value proposition" concept is served well here - these are generous, hearty plates of food that nourish you and fill you up. And cheap: regular bowls (which we had) are around $8.50 and the "extra large" is around a tenner (they must be gigantic!).
Simon tells me that some of his Eat Here Now readers have complained about the oiliness of the food, but this is the nature of this particular variety of Chinese food. Plus, the chilli oil is basically a seasoning rather than something you are going to eat a lot of.
The look of delight on the faces of the kitchen staff when I tell them how much I have enjoyed their food is gratifying. This is not flashy food, by any means, but it is food that will fill you up, stick to your ribs. And it is tasty - oh, so tasty.
We drop J and Cousin A back at their place in the city - I drive deliberately a bit hairily, but nope; still no baby. Disappointing - it is as though the wee blighter is holding out, despite the chilli noodles to deny me a sensational finish to the meal. Oh well...
One more day in Ak, then the far north. This could get interesting.
Xi'an - been there? Did you dig it? Any more hints for pregs friend to hurry things along? And Northcote Shopping Centre - extraordinary, or what?!
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