They say love goes through the stomach, and this may be particularly true when visiting Yinchuan. Not the most attractive, or cultured city in China, Yinchuan may seem like a grim, dry city – at first glance. However, talk to any local about the province’s cuisine and specialties, and you’ll soon see a passion and energy that’s hard to rival. You see, Yinchuan (or Ningxia Province at large) has a couple of foods, dishes and drinks that locals are particularly proud of and you’re unlikely to meet a single person in Yinchuan who doesn’t believe their specialties are simply the best. Here are the top 5 local treats that you must try when in Yinchuan – but be warned: lamb and noodles elsewhere in China may never taste so good again.
1) Hand-pulled lamb, boiled lamb or any other shape or form of lamb
Lamb or mutton, is the pride and joy of Ningxia. Whether boiled on a plate, thrown into a hot pot, chopped into noodles or roasted on skewers, Yinchuan’s mutton really is superior in quality and freshness to that found in most other non-Northwestern provinces. And there’s evidence to support this bold claim. Ningxia is a region heavily populated by the Islamic Hui ethnic minority, so naturally mutton is their meat of choice. Plus, with so much open space to roam around in, it makes perfect sense that the province is a popular breeding ground for sheep.
Must-try mutton dishes include the hand-pulled mutton (手抓羊肉), bread pieces in lamb soup (羊肉泡馍) and deep fried mince mutton balls (烩小吃) to name but a few. Locals also really love their boiled lamb intestine in soup (羊杂碎), though this isn’t for the faint of heart (the smell alone is enough to bowl you over). Don’t be shocked if locals order a head of lamb, complete with juicy eyes when invited for dinner. Apparently, some of the best meat is on the head and the eyes are the tastiest part of the lamb by far (or so they claim)!
“Yinchuaners” are particularly proud of their saozi mian (臊子面). Saozi mian are long noodles, placed in a rich vegetable and meat broth. Recipes vary, but quite often saozi mian will include pieces of finely chopped potatoes, tofu, lamb and other vegetables. Although you’ll find saozi mian across the country, Ningxia has its own unique flavour and take on the dish. The same goes for many other common noodle dishes there, so do make sure to try at least a couple of noodle dishes.
3) Goji Berries (a.k.a. wolfberries)
One of the “treasures of Ningxia” and one of the region’s most important products, Ningxia is the world’s top goji berry producing hub. You simply can’t come to Yinchuan without either buying a pack of dried goji berries or trying them in one of the many dishes or drinks they’re used in. Goji berries are high in anti-oxidants and are believed to help fight breast cancer, so there’s no excuse for not tasting these red little gems. Like lamb, goji berries are served in a wide variety of forms: on its own (dried), eaten as a cold dish (only its leaves however, a dish called Goji miao[枸杞苗]), as a liqueur or in tea (more on that later).
4) Eight Treasures Tea (八宝茶)
Another one of Ningxia’s pride and joy, Eight Treasures tea is served at virtually every restaurant you go to in the provincial capital. As the name suggests, eight ingredients are thrown into a teapot, giving this tea its deliciously sweet taste. Recipes vary, but in general it contains green tea, chrysanthemums, jujube, goji berries, dragon eye fruit, rock sugar, sesame and other dried fruit. Eight Treasures Tea is known for its health revitalizing benefits and for stimulating the appetite.
5) Ningxia Wine
Ningxia province is one of China’s main wine producing areas and much effort has gone into promoting the region’s wine industry in recent years. And the effort has paid off! Ningxia, especially the region on the eastern slopes on Helan Mountain, has been receiving increasing recognition by wine connoisseurs worldwide and has garnered a number of prestigious international prizes. Despite its growing recognition, it’s still relatively difficult to find Ningxia produced wines outside of the province. However, you’ll find plenty of local wine brands in shops and supermarkets throughout the city and brands to look out for include Xixia King (西夏王) and The Helan Mountain (贺兰山).
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Keywords: Must try delicacies Yinchuan Yinchuan specialties Yinchuan local food Ningxia wine
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