The Unvegan

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Invoking Memories at Xi’an

Oh how I’ve missed you.

A lot of people visit China and are completely blown away by how different the food there is than the Chinese food they get back in the USA. Some are disappointed, some are overwhelmed, and some even like it. I am one of the latter, because while I lived in China, I couldn’t get enough of their food. I liked it so much that when I returned to my homeland, I avoided Chinese food for months, knowing that it just wouldn’t be the same. When I finally got up the courage to eat Chinese food again, I did it with the mindset that the Chinese food here just wasn’t the same as in the actual Middle Kingdom.

Since then, I have grown to enjoy Chinese food here, but I have always been on the lookout for something that actually tasted like in China. Wang Jia in the San Gabriel Valley was the closest to actual Chinese food that I’ve had in my native land, but I was still unable to get my favorite dish: Kung Pao Chicken. When I went to Xi’an (pronounced shee-ahn) in Beverly Hills, I kind of expected more of the same old Chinese fare, but with a higher Beverly Hills-esque price tag. After all, Beverly Hills isn’t exactly known to be a hotbed of Chinese culture. Nonetheless, I ordered my old favorite Kung Pao and hoped that I would be served something decent.

Now if you don’t know your Chinese history, here’s a little lesson. Xi’an is a big city in central China that was the ancient capital of the empire. The first emperor of China was buried there, along with a massive army of Terracotta Warriors. And I mean massive; there are thousands of them, as well as horses, chariots and other fun ancient army goodies. But unlike the Great Wall, this army was buried and unknown to the world until 1974, when farmers found them while digging from a well.

I’m sure by now you’re wondering what the hell all this has to do with my food. Well, when my Kung Pao Chicken arrived and I started eating, I felt like farmers had dug out these ancient memories of mine that I have of Kung Pao Chicken back in China. This stuff was flavored just like I remembered in almost every aspect, from the texture of the chicken to whatever sauce they put on to the peanuts. It was salty and peanutty and almost perfect. The only thing that was missing was the kick. Kung Pao is a spicy dish and Xi’an failed to give it as much spice as I would have liked. Fortunately, I was too busy basking in the memories of chowing down on Kung Pao in little dingy restaurants in Shanghai to be terribly concerned about that.

Xi’an certainly surprised me in a good way. I must admit my expectations were quite low and the restaurant totally surpassed them. They still have some Beverly Hills style foods like the Power Rice with broccoli, eggwhites and other such nonsense, but they more than make up for with the authenticity of their main courses. In addition, our waiter was fantastic and had a strong Chinese accent that made me feel safe. Plus, the prices for entrees hover around 10-15 bucks, so you don’t have to pay a huge premium for some authentic Chinese food, even though it only takes a few steps outside of the restaurant to bring you back to the materialistic reality of Beverly Hills.