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Food and Drink along Silk Road

Food and drink along China's Silk Road varies from Xi'an to Kashgar. Although most cities and towns have restaurants specializing in Sichuan, Cantonese and Beijing or Shanghai cuisine,each region has its own speciality to explore.

Night markets (ye shi) and small restaurants (xiao chi) are by far the tastiest places to eat. Each night around dusk, street vendors set up stalls and tables on prearranged streets throughout the various cities. These lively night markets provide an excellent opportunity to stroll and sample from the various cauldrons, woks and grills that line the street. Small restaurants are best for authentic local dishes and distant regiona fiavours. The best way to order is by pointing to what others are having or by going into the kitchen and picking out various meat and vegetable combinations. With few exceptions, hotel restaurants offer expensive and unexciting meals, a last resort when deciding where to eat. The Practical Information section for each city contains useful information on night markets, small restaurants and local specialities.

The most popular of all foods in the northwest is barbecued mutton on skewers Xinjiang barbecued mutton(kao yangrou), which tends to be less spicy the further west you go and is eaten with a wide variety of fiatbreads (bing) that can be sweet, salty or plain. In Gansu, hot pot (huoguo), a cross between the spicy Sichuan and more functional Mongolian styles, is a common way of cooking and eating skewers of vegetables and meat as well as other favourites such as liver, coagulated blood and skewered entrails. Boiled mutton dumplings (yangrou shuijiao) are served either in soup or with a spicy soy/vinegar sauce. In Xinjiang, most meals consist of noodles or bread served with mutton in one form or another. The most common dish is latiaozi fresh noodles served with sauted lamb, tomatoes, aubergine and hot green peppers. A more detailed description of Uygur cuisine is contained in Uygur Food, Drink and a Few Words. Both Xinjiang and Gansu produce a wide variety of fruit (shuiguo), which is in season in summer months--apricots (xingzi), plums (meizi) and mulberries (sangshu) in June; melons (gua) in July; peaches (taozi), figs (wuhuaguo) and grapes (putao) in August; pome- granates (shiliu), apples (pingguo) and pears (lizi) in September. There are over 50 types of Hami melons and many different species of watermelon (x/gua, or western melon), which first came to China from Africa via the Silk Road.

Xinjiang Food Tea (cha) is taken with meals or just bread. In Xi'an and Gansu, the most common variety is a smooth green tea, whereas in Xinjiang people drink a rough black tea re- sembling sticks and twigs. Beer (pijiu) and rice wine (baijiu) are popular, particularly among the Muslims, and often accompany meals. Each province and city tends to have its own beer, none of which tastes as good as those of east and southwest China, but can still be satisfying when it is cold and you are hot. Most types of refreshments that you may desire in the desert heattfrom Coca-Cola to fiavoured water, thick fresh yoghurt to fruit juice as well as ice cream, frozen yoghurt and popsicles---are available from vendors with refrigerators on almost every street comer.

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