China is known for having 56 ethnic groups, so one can expect the food scene in the country to be extremely diverse, culturally.
Just as Beijing is famous for its roasted Peking duck, Shaanxi is also well known for its Lamb Paomo (羊肉泡饃), a historic Muslim dish that according to rumors dates back to the Northern Song dynasty. However, that’s just one of many versions of the history of this dish.
The dish is made by tearing up pieces of bread and soaking them in a bowl of fragrant, savory, and fatty lamb stew bursting with flavor.
We say burst because that’s what happens when one bites into the Paomo (literally ‘soaked bread’) and experiences a dizzying kaleidoscope of flavors as the soup gushes out and attacks the taste buds.
Lao Sun Jia (老孫家飯莊) is an old favorite among Shaanxi locals and is said to have been around since the 24th year of Qing dynasty Emperor Guangxu’s reign (1898 A.D.).
Helming the hundred-year-old restaurant is chef Zhen Yi, who has more than 20 years of experience making Lamb Paomo.
“Most people have it for breakfast here in Shaanxi,” Zhen shared, adding that neighbors would gather round in the morning to catch up over a bowl of Lamb Paomo.
One would expect the bread to become soggy after being soaked in the broth but that is certainly not the case with the bread used in this dish, which becomes chewy after being soaked in the lamb soup.
“The bread is made with unleavened dough,” Chef Zhen explained.
The lamb soup itself is deceptively simple as the clear broth does not seem to boast anything special, but nothing could be further from the truth.
“We usually spend a whole day stewing the lamb and boiling the soup,” Zhen remarked with a glint of pride in his eyes.
“You need at least 15 to 16 hours to prepare the lamb and soup,” the chef added.
Indeed, we can only wonder what goes on behind the scenes to make this seemingly simple soup so flavorful.