Our last stop in Xi'an was a dim sum lunch at the Legendary De Fa Chang Restaurant, which is renowned for its superior delicious dumplings. (No, really - it's on their sign.)
Grandiose their claims may be, but delicious and amazing their meal certainly was.
Fred and Mark had arranged a sumptuous repast for us. They had a display out front showing samples of each of their dumplings (click for bigger):
One after the other, eighteen courses came out in their steamer baskets, each one with a different flavor and each differently colored and folded - appearance was just as important as taste. This is the kind of multisensory eating experience that the Chinese have always loved, where sight and scent and taste all form a synthesis, and a great deal of care went into making the visual side fit with the flavor. For example, these dumplings:
contained a mild vegetable filling, these ones
were filled with spicy chicken, these
contained a delicately flavored filling based on shrimp, and these
were mildly sweet and packed with ground walnut meats. It almost seemed a shame to eat them, but somehow we managed.
The only thing keeping us from perfect contentment was the temperature in the restaurant: it was extremely over-warm in there. (I suppose with all the steaming going on in the kitchen, that makes sense.) After an hour of heroic eating, we were all a little shiny with perspiration and tending to slump to the side. That was when the waitress, with a big smile, brought a soup pot to the table, set it on a brazier, and lit it on fire. She tossed some more tiny dumplings into the soup and left it to cook in front of us for awhile:
Fairly soon, the soup and the diners were all thoroughly cooked!