UPPER EAST SIDE, NYC | Followers of the former incarnation of this blog, PHUDE (NYC), might remember what a huge fan of Xi'an Famous Foods I am. I often refer to it as my favorite Chinese food service in all the city, which may not be fair, as it specializes in the centuries-old cuisine of a particular northwestern region of China, heavily influenced by Middle Eastern flavors.
And also heavy on the spice and heat, with a menu of items accentuated with ingredients such as chili oil, Sichuan peppercorns, and more much welcomed cumin in the ground lamb burger than you might find throughout a four-course service at most any other restaurant.
Lots of deep, rich, exotic flavor and a filling, simple sandwich that only costs a handful of bucks. Understandable how the lamb burger has long been one of best-selling items at all of Xi'an's ever increasing number of outposts.
I discovered the second one in Chinatown a few years ago, smack in the middle of an especially cold December, and have since never forgotten the delicious, soothing, body-warming, spice of the cold hand-pulled pork “zha jiang” noodle dish. So, although I can be found ordering from Xi'an year-round, the cooler temperatures of autumn and winter have me craving the remedially healing, hot, spicy soups and stews, spiked with hot chili oil, and medicinally tasty with soy, ginger, garlic, pepper, and peppercorns, in long-steeped rich broths.
My favorite of the broth/soup options being the stewed oxtail with hand-ripped (which I usually order extra spicy). Tender, juicy with rendered fat and cartilage that separate from the tail bones with ease. Layers of sweet, savory, spicy, and smoky flavor, broadened by a heat that excites the palate and tongue without overwhelming either, and gently spreads across the shoulders, down the back, and across the face, as beads of sweat appear on the brow, and the chill of the seasonal cold lifts and dissipates.
And, for me, so do the weights of the world, as I slowly enjoy this soup grateful spoon by grateful spoon. My hot tongue and warm happy belly were all I needed to get through the rest of the chilly day unbothered.
We're all used to fighting fire with fire, but as the temperatures continue to drop, I'll be looking forward to fighting ice with yummy fire as well.