We did venture out of the Muslim Quarter (a few feet out of it anyways) for one meal in Xi'an: a dumpling feast from De Fa Chang. A very well-known and highly publicized institution, De Fa Chang had the feel of a once-grand eatery that had succumbed to legions of tour groups, tourists, and business meetings.

De Fa Chang specializes in set menus of dumplings — although there are other options on the menu, we opted for one of the feasts. We picked one on the simpler and less expensive end of the scale, and were still overwhelmed by the variety and amount of food. While the dumplings ranged from decent to extraordinary in flavor and texture, I was consistently surprised by their fillings and shapes, most of which were unlike any others I've seen. Here's the complete photographic rundown of the dumpling procession:

The meal began with small appetizer plates of cold noodles, peanut and corn salad with a fish dressing, mildly pickled cabbage with tripe, and dark greens with beans. This quartet was an excellent combination of complex flavor pairings: the umami of aged fish and peanuts with the freshness of corn, the crisp cabbage and smooth tripe melded with sour pickle flavor, the blandness of the cold noodles under the deep, tart dressing, and the rich bitterness of the greens with the mellow starch of the beans. Next in line was a light but savory mushroom soup, just barely sweetened with floating goji berries, and a set of fried dumplings, one duck and one sweet paste. Then the dumplings really began in earnest: three trays, each arrayed with four or five pairs of intricately shaped steamed dumplings, a parade of walnuts, ducks, and flowers. After that, when we assumed the meal would be winding down, a gigantic plate of homestyle boiled dumplings appeared, along with a chicken broth soup, full of tiny floating dumplings, heated on a brazier.

This beauty was carefully topped with minced vegetables, while the one below is curled on itself like a flower. Perhaps the most unusual dumpling was the walnut one, carefully colored and shaped to reflect its filling. While its skin was thick and somewhat dry, the filling was moist and richly nutty. Tomato seemed to play a large part in some of the dumplings, which also struck me as uncommon. We also especially enjoyed the vibrant flavors, tender skins, and adorable shapes of the duck dumplings.

The best thing about this dinner is that I feel like it has given me permission to be experimental in my own dumpling cooking. If De Fa Chang can fill dumplings with walnuts and tomatoes, and make them in crazy animal shapes, I can too! The other great thing, though, was the fake dumplings laid out in the lobby, like these fancy birds:

I am filled with dumpling lust! Thanks for the great post.

Hey, thanks a bunch!

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