Xi’an, China — A City full of wonders

Yingying Zhang
8 min readFeb 25, 2017


I seem to run out of topics lately, so I decided to do a series of doodles for Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China, my second hometown. I see it as my “second” hometown, because it is not a place where I was born, but where I grew up all the way till I came abroad.

Every time when people asked where I was from and I said “Xi’an”, most of them had no idea. However, once I said that’s where the “Terracotta Warriors and Horses” were, people generally said they’ve heard of them.

Yes, Xi’an is best known for its ancient soldier and horse statues, which were buried with Qin Emperor, the first empire of the ancient China. It’s a masterpiece from more than 2000 years ago and one of the Eight Wonders of the World.

To me, Xi’an’s “Terracotta Warriors and Horses” is stunning artwork, and yet there are other aspects that touches my heart:

  1. It’s one of the oldest cities in China, and has held the position under several of the most important dynasties in Chinese history. It’s also the starting point of the Silk Road. There are quite a few museums you can go to to learn about this area.

2. Food, food, food. Xi’an people are good at making noodles and many other delicious foods. It’s definitely one of the things I miss most. Very few restaurants can make decent Xi’an food in the US.

3. Mount Hua, located to the east of Xi’an. It is the western mountain of the Five Great Mountains of China. It has five peaks, and the tallest peak is more than 2000 meters (7000 feet) tall.

I’m very excited to bring this great city in front of more people and hope it sparks more interest for world travelers.

Terracotta Warriors and Horses

Speaking of Xi’an, one can’t forget to mention “Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses”. It is what makes Xi’an known to the world. I visited there many items when I was a kid, and again last year. I did a doodle last time I visited, but I figure it makes sense to re-introduce it and repost my simple write-up again.

“Terracotta Warriors and Horses”, or as some people call it “Terracotta Army”, is a very famous tourism spot in Xi’an, China. They are real-life-size clay figures buried with Qin Emperor, the first empire of the ancient China. It’s a masterpiece from more than 2000 years ago and one of the Eight Wonders of the World.

Each single one of them was very delicately designed, baked and assembled. Well, at that time, if any of them were not the best they can be, the makers can be killed by the Emperor. When they were dug up from underground in the 1970s, some soldiers and horses had colors. Unfortunately, the colors faded quickly as they were exposed to the air. There were still undiscovered ones for the purpose of preservation.

What’s really interesting is that the soldiers and horses were positioned underground in a way that they were preparing the Emperor and ready to fight: soldiers are in groups and generals are having meetings. It’s amazing design, just imagine it, in a world that’s 2000 years ago.

What was sad was that at the end of the Qin Dynasty and after, some people burned parts of soldiers and many broken down. We can still see the burned area now.

The cost to recover every single soldier is enormous, about several hundred thousand Yuan. Thanks to the investment from the government, it has become one of the most popular visiting spots in China. Each year, the museum of these Terracotta warriors and Horses welcomes 7 or 8 million visitors. This makes a great amount of money for the museum and helps it remain a great wonder.


It’s not surprising that there are more than 10 museums in Xi’an and its surrounding areas, since it has a history of more than 2000 years.

If you have time for visiting only one museum, then go to the Shaanxi History Museum. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the first huge state museums with modern facilities in China and one of the largest. The museum houses over 370,000 items, including murals, paintings, pottery, coins, as well as bronze, gold, and silver objects. The modern museum was built between 1983 and 2001 and its appearance recalls the architectural style of the Tang Dynasty.

My friend Shi Yuhang wrote up a list of museums in Xi’an and its surrounding areas (in Chinese), check it out if you’d like to visit them: https://www.zhihu.com/question/23600587

Steamed Cold Noodle & Rougamo

My favorite food combo in Xi’an: 凉皮 (Liangpi, or Steamed Cold Noodles) & 肉夹馍 (Rou Jia Mo, or Rougamo, meat inside bread).

Rougamo, almost a directly pronunciation transfer from the Chinese pronunciation Rou Jia Mo, means meat inside bread. The meat is usually very flavorful pork, which is stewed for long hours with more than 20 spicies. In the Muslim areas around Xi’an, people use beef and lamb, along with lots of cumin and pepper instead. Makes me mouthwatering just by thinking about it.

Steamed cold noodles are made of rice flour. After a few times of filtering, it becomes starch-like paste. This paste will then be put into steamer, usually a huge round flat surface. After the steaming, it comes out as a piece of very large round flat round skin, which will be cut evenly with a gigantic knife — it is so big that the cook needs to use both hand to hold it. Then, flavors are added to the noodles: sour and spicy? With sesame paste? With cucumbers? Your choices. I love all of them.

They are something you don’t want to miss if you visit Xi’an. In the U.S., it is very hard to find authentic Xi’an food. I heard people applaud for the Xi’an Famous Food in New York. Next time I’m in New York, I must give it a try.

Paomo (Pita Bread Soaked in Beef/Lamb Soup)

My second favorite food in Xi’an area is the Paomo, which literally means “soaked bread”. Its most common English name is “Pita Bread Soaked in Beef/Lamb Soup” or “Flat Bread Soaked in Beef/Lamb Soup”.

During cold winter, nothing beats a bowl of hot Paomo. In Paomo, you typically find cubed pita bread, thin starch noodles, wood ears, pieces of beef or lamb. For the cubed pita bread, it’s up to you whether you want it done by machine, or by your own hands.

Some people say, Paomo always tastes better if you break down the pita bread by your own hands. Whe I was little, my dad sometimes waited for my sister and me for lunch in a Paomo restaurant. He usually asked for a few pieces of pita bread, broke them down into cubes and sent them to the kitchen, then when my sister and me got out of school, we can have hot Paomo ready for us.

Pickled garlics are perfect companions for Paomo. When I eat Paomo, I always ask for a small plate of pickled garlics. Eating Paomo without them feels incomplete.

According to Wikipedia, Paomo came from a legend:

“One legend about its origin is that in the late five dynasties in China, Zhao Kuangyin[2] who became the emperor of the Song Dynasty nation returned to his hometown after seeing his fiancée off. He had consumed most of his food and money on the journey. He had only two pieces of inedible big hard bread. His party went through a shop selling lamb soup and broke the bread in pieces and added it to the soup. When he became emperor he returned to the small shop and asked the cook to make it again. After the meal, the emperor could not hide his happiness and named it Flat Bread Soaked in Lamb Soup.”

Biang Biang Noodle (Biang Biang Mian)

Noodles are very popular in Shaanxi Province, where Xi’an is located. Biang Biang Noodle, also known as 油泼扯面, is among the most popular noodles. What’s fun is that, reference from Wikipedia, Biang Biang Noodles are touted as one of the “ten strange wonders of Shaanxi” (陕西十大怪), are described as being like a belt, owing to their thickness and length.

Biang Biang Noodles are handmade and very wide and thick. It takes from effort to chew each “noodle belt”, and that makes it so satisfying.

The Chinese character Biang cannot be found in common Chinese dictionaries and I guess it might be made up just to be fun. The simplfied Chinese version is made up of 43 strokes, while the traditional Chinese version 58 strokes.

Below are direct quote from Wikipedia, to give you some interesting knowledge about this character:

“The character is composed of 言 (speak; 7 strokes) in the middle flanked by 幺 (tiny; 2×3 strokes) on both sides. Below it, 馬 (horse; 10 strokes) is similarly flanked by 長 (grow; 2×8 strokes). This central block itself is surrounded by 月 (moon; 4 strokes) to the left, 心 (heart; 4 strokes) below, and刂 (knife; 2 strokes) to the right. These in turn are surrounded by a second layer of characters, namely 穴 (cave; 5 strokes) on the top and 辶 (walk; 4 strokes) curving around the left and bottom.”

Mount Hua

Mount Hua is one of the Five Great Mountains in China. It’s located in Huayin City, about 75 miles from Xi’an. It’s part of Qin Mountains, which divides Shaanxi Province as well as China.

Mount Hua has five peaks. If you’d like to take a cable car, you’ll arrive at the North Peak, and from there hike to other peaks. One of the most famous trails is called Canglong Lin (Dark Dragon Ridge). It’s a narrow hiking route with chains on two sides to protect the tourists. When I was a teen, I hiked this trail. I remember that some omeone bumped into me and made me almost out of balance. Luckily, I grabbed the chain and regained my balance. Otherwise, you would not see this piece of writing today ;)

If you stop by Xi’an and look for a good hike, Mount Hua is a great choice. I don’t recommend going there on holidays, because it will be too crowded and also can be dangerous to hike. If you go on a clear day, you’ll enjoy a stunningly beautiful sight, with pieces of clouds floating below you. Feels like walking in heaven :)

Pomegranate Blossoms

What’s the official flower for Xi’an? Pomegranate Blossom.

The reason why this particular flower was picked was that Lintong District of Xi’an has the best pomegranates, in terms of agricultural area, production amount and quality.

In May, the pomegranate blossoms to turn red just like fire. A famous poet once complemented them to be one of the most beautiful flowers.

A city of many memories

This is the last doodle / writeup of my Xi’an series. People know Xi’an mostly because of its famous Terra-cotta army and tourism. To me, this city is where I grew up, where my family still is and the hub of delicious food. I love it.

I think everyone has a place that gets close to her or his heart. What’s this one place for you?