A Hamburger Today
Terrific Liang Pi and Biang Biang Noodles at Philly's Xi'an Sizzling Woks
The wide, chewy, rough-cut style of noodles native to Xi'an are some of my favorites, but they're hard to come by in Boston. Our lone outpost, Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe, makes great liang pi and biang biang, but Chelmsford is a hike and their new Financial District shop keeps very limited hours. So, when I see Xi'an noodle shops in my travels, I make a point of stopping in.
Xi'an Sizzling Woks, a recent addition to Philly's Chinatown, was so good that I went twice over Thanksgiving weekend to eat their liang pi ($4.95) and biang biang ($5.95). The former is that refreshing dish of chilled flat, slippery wheat noodles (often referred to as "skin noodles"); their byproduct, the bready slabs of sloughed off starch that has been poured into a mould and steamed; bean sprouts; cucumber; and a vinegar-chile oil dressing that seems to hit every flavor tone on the spectrum.
The latter are heartier, thicker, slightly furled at the edges, and incredibly satisfying—noodles that were made for cold weather. Until that weekend, I'd only ever had them with a vinegar-chile oil dressing and a load of raw minced garlic stirred in. Here, they recommend the noodles with a ginger-scallion sauce, which packed plenty of depth but skipped the raw garlic bite. A few pieces of brilliant green, crisp-tender baby bok choy break up the heft and the moderate heat.
Then there was the dish I'd never had before: Sautéed Spicy Chicken and Noodle ($16.95). As far as I understand, it's a Mongolian dish called da pan ji ban mian, or "big plate chicken," that makes biang biang noodles heartier by sautéing them with chicken knuckles, big chunks of floury russet potato, and green pepper. Flavoring the whole platter is a complex, warm-spiced, and chile-laced (but not incendiary) gravy that turns the biang biang noodles into such a different preparation that there's no shame in ordering both.
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Senior Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.