Xi’an: 乡村基 CSC | 钟楼 Zhong Lou

I…I just don’t know how to make this sound better.

But I was completely underwhelmed by Xi’an – I almost feel bad for saying this, actually. After all, being an ethnic Chinese and all, culturally, this place holds great significance for me. It’s like, here, this place, the ground beneath me – Xi’an; without the things that have transpired here, I wouldn’t be alive. But the fact is, I was disappointed in it all.

The world-famous Terracotta Warriors, the guardians of China’s first emperor’s tomb look exactly like it does on television – you don’t get the “director’s cut” by coming down here, what you’ve seen is exactly what you’ll get. The Shaanxi History Museum – more expensive than The Lourve, The Palace Museum and the Guggenheim put together. The city wall – demolished and restored more times to facilitate the city’s modern expansion than it was actually destroyed. The city’s commercialized shopping streets – an endless cacophony of the same few Chinese brands repeated over and on top of each other over and over again. Of course, it didn’t help that I fell sick, so maybe that influenced me. But to be honest, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that I doubt I’ll ever be returning.

Contrary to what I’ve posted here so far, most of my meals in Xi’an had been defined almost exclusively by Shaanxi fare, whether it be the Chinese Handburger (roujiamo), Cold Noodles (liangpi) or the local “must-try”, Crumbled Flatbread in Mutton Stew (yangrou paomo). I’ll probably not write about it, mostly because it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint an exact venue and address. And while I’ve made considerable attempts to dine at recommended establishments, I’ve found little reason to include them as they don’t taste any different from similar, less well-known eateries. So, for Shaanxi cuisine, if the eatery is packed, or requires a queue, it’s probably good.

Even so, eating Shaanxi fare for four days straight can be very exhausting. I appreciate rich flavors and textures as much as the next guy, but the spices here can be very subversive – eat too much of it, and you’ll lose what you used to know. So, it was with a certain glee that I spotted a Chinese fastfood joint, and one that was pulling in the crowds. This one’s called CSC, which is not derived from its Chinese name, Xiang Cun Ji, but from its slogan, “Country Style Cooking”. In any case, it’s listed on the New York Stock Exchange, so I suppose that means something.

CSC is a Chongqing-based Chinese fastfood chain, with outlets located entirely in central-southwest China. The menu is a mix of contemporary interpretations of Sichuan cuisine, and China’s version of “Singapore’s western food”, a close-but-not-really interpretation of western food. I decide to “splurge”, and opt for a beef steak.

Aside from the free-flow soft drinks – I initially go for a piping hot orange juice, before switching to a room temperature Coca Cola – the meal is curiously familiar. Sure, the black pepper sauce is hot as hell, but in general, I felt like Singapore had come to say “hello”. It tasted exactly like those western food stalls you get in Singapore – not those in food courts, but the real popular ones at hawker centres. It was average as far as the gastronomic scale goes, but “average” never tasted so good before.

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