Way back in 2005, Xi’an Famous Foods had but one location, in what I like to call the 36th Chamber of the Golden Shopping Mall. It was presided over by an affable gent who went by the nom de cuisine Liang Pi, after his signature dish liang pi, cold skin noodles. Today it’s become a mini empire with five locations, upscale sister restaurant Biang, and a Brooklyn commissary.
Back in the day the most notable design elements were rickety folding stools and 100-pound bags of wheat flour arrayed like sandbags along the back wall. “My name is Liang Pi,” he would proudly say as he ladled out the dish. Many of his customers came from the same region and seemed absolutely thrilled to find a dish from back home in Queens. Legions of hungry regional Chinese cuisine fiends were pretty thrilled too. I’d never tasted anything like cold skin noodles before: squidgy, porous blocks of wheat gluten and chewy ribbons of wheat starch, tossed with bean sprouts, cilantro, slivers of cucumber and a “secret sauce” made from sesame paste, vinegar, and chili oil, among other things. “I have it for breakfast at least three times a week,” one fan told me. (more…)