Looking to sink your teeth into a meaty snack that you can hold in your hands? Well forget the Whopper, China’s got its own hamburger: the Shaanxi-styled roujiamo (肉夹馍), which literally translates to “meat pinched between mo” or bread. Unlike the chemical-filled munchies served up at your local Burger King, roujiamos are something to be relished—the bread is chewy, and the pork inside is soft, tender and fragrant. Even after I finish one, I can still taste the hearty juices lingering in my mouth.
Roujiamo is a popular snack in northwest China, and is usually found in one of two varieties: Shaanxi Province’s lazhi roujiamo (腊汁肉夹馍), which is made with pork in gravy, and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region’s yangrou roujiamo (羊肉肉夹馍), which is made with lamb. The former is more common, and is one of the most famous snacks out of xiaochi heaven Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province.
As indicated by its name, lazhirou jiamo is composed of two elements—lazhirou (腊汁肉), which literally means “gravy-ed meat” and mo (馍), the flat bread on which it’s served. But it didn’t always go by this name. During the Warring States period (475 BC-221 BC), the snack went by the name hanrou (寒肉), literally “Han State’s pork.” Han State, a triangular area encompassing present-day Shaanxi Province, Shanxi Province and Henan Province, was home to the famous lazhirou. Later, after the Qin State conquered the Han State, the cooking technique was introduced into the Qin capital Chang’an (长安) (now known as Xi’an).
Lazhirou is made of the meat between a pig’s hind legs and its ribs, known as yingleirou (硬肋肉), and stewed with 20 kinds of spices, including salt, ginger, scallions, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, loquat and more. Authentic lazhirou has an appetizing ruddy color, a fluffy, melting texture and rich, hearty aroma. So far has lazhirou’s fame spread that it even has odes dedicated to its deliciousness, as evidenced by this old saying: “You don’t feel greasy when biting into the fat; the minced lean pork makes you feel the oil’s fragrance; the pork is falls apart without you even needing to bite it; after eating, you mouth is still scented with its aroma” (肥肉吃了不腻口，瘦肉无渣满口油，不用牙咬肉自烂，食后余香久不散 Féiròu chī le bú nì kǒu, shòu ròuwú zhā mǎn kǒu yóu. Búyòng yá yǎo ròu zì làn, shí hòu yúxiāng jiǔ bú sàn).
No less credit should be given to the staple ingredient holding the whole operation together: mo (馍) is short for baijimo (白吉馍), a round wheat bread baked over a fire that originally hails from Xianyang City in Shaanxi Province. Making good baijimo requires excellent dough-making skills as well as the ability to control your fire. Top-grade baijimo has a crispy, thin skin on the outside and a soft chewy inside.
Lazhi roujiamo feature a perfect combination of lazhirou and mo. So if you’re looking for a hearty homespun alternative to a burger, head to the nearest Shaanxi restaurant for your very own roujiamo.
This next pork dish is fit for the gods themselves.
For another great Chinese snack, have a look at this.