Taste of the Month: Tommy's Asian Grill
Tommy’s Asian Grill, located at 432 East College Avenue, is State College’s first Xi’an Chinese restaurant serving authentic, fresh, hand-stretched noodles, handmade flat breads for Chinese burgers, and traditional Xi’an BBQ on a stick.
With the ever-growing Chinese student population at Penn State, a New York City lawyer and his business partner saw a need for a Xi’an restaurant in State College. It opened in 2013, and managers Qiqi Shi and Mary Liu are tasked to run Tommy’s Asian Grill, making everything from scratch.
As the capital of the Shaanxi Province in northwestern China, Xi’an is best known as the starting point of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. One of the oldest cities in China and home to various religions, from Buddhism to Christianity and Islam, the city of Xi’an has held an important position under several dynasties in the country’s history. These different influences played a role in Xi’an culinary history, creating a cuisine that is uniquely its own.
In comparison to other Chinese cuisines, noodles are more widely used in Xi’an dishes than rice. The noodles are typically thicker and longer. The most popular is known as Biang-Biang Mian (noodles). The word Biang is onomatopoetic — it mimics the sound of flour dough hitting the counter when being stretched. Savory and chewy from the eggs and oil added in the flour dough, Biang-Biang noodles are often served with braised meats, assorted vegetables, and lots of red hot peppers and diced garlic.
The Biang-Biang noodles at Tommy’s Asian Grill are served in many different ways, from the cold noodles to soup bowls, including the spicy hot beef noodles soup, the mountain Qi minced noodles, and the pork noodles soup.
The noodles are always stretched to order. When you place your order, the noodle stretcher will place a few balls on the oiled table and start flattening them out with a smooth wooden dowel. He folds and stretches the noodles as far as he can without lifting them off the table. Then, he vigorously slaps the ever-elongating noodle up and down. As the noodles stretch, they get thinner and thinner. The end result is something about an inch and a half wide, similar to Italian pappardelle.
In addition to the noodles, Roujiamo or Chinese meat burger is a common street food from the Shaanxi Province. The Chinese burger with pork or beef with cumin is served in fresh, handmade flat bread.
Other street foods that people from Xi’an enjoy are different meats on skewers. Tommy’s Asian Grill offers a selection of BBQ meats on a stick, from the simple beef and chicken to more exotic skewers such as beef tendon, chicken gizzards, lamb, squid, shrimp, and fried fish tofu.
The skewers cost about $2 to $4 each, making them a perfect complement to a bowl of hand-stretched noodle soup.
Other Xi’an food items to try at Tommy’s Asian Grill include the cool skin noodle (Liangpi) and Buckwheat Heluo (qiaomianheluo).
A Xi’an specialty, Liangpi is a noodle-like dish made from wheat or rice flour and is typically served with different flavorings such as garlic and hot chili oil, or julienned cucumber and a sauce made of salt, vinegar, hot chili oil, and black sesame paste.
Qiaomianheluo dates back 600 years and is made from fresh buckwheat and is eaten for its health and nutritious benefits. Buckwheat noodles are fat-free, cholesterol-free, and are a good source of nutrients such as manganese, lean protein, carbohydrates, and thiamine. Since buckwheat does not contain gluten, it is a good choice for people following a gluten-free diet.
For more information and to view the menu of Tommy’s Asian Grill, visit tommysstatecollege.com.