Street Food: Rou Jia Mo from China

In some places, street food has been around for thousands of years. China's rou jia mo sandwich can be traced back to the Qin dynasty, about 221 BC to 207 BC. But what is rou jia mo?

A rou jia mo is meat-centric sandwich of meat. Inside the pita-like pocket of wheat flour, which is called a "mo", you can find chopped pork, beef or lamb, stewed in a soup of spices and mixed with greens like cilantro, green peppers, or shredded lettuce.

As a simple sandwich of meat in a bun, it has been called the world's first hamburger. Originating in the Shaanxi Province's capital city of Xi'an, the rou jia mo is considered a staple street food of the region and has become popular all over China. Both the mo and the meat stew are generally made right on the street by the vendors.

Even though some people think the mo is just a vehicle to get the delicious meat from the vendor to the customer on the street, it is also an important part of the dish. The mo shares similarities with both pitas and steamed buns. The mo is traditionally baked in a clay oven to give it a crispy exterior while maintaining a soft and doughy interior. However, today the mo is sometimes cooked in a pressure cooker or a frying pan.

Since the mo is so simple, different vendors will have distinctive variations. These differences, along with the array of possible flavors that can be stewed into the meat, make the rou jia mo a street food than can greatly vary from vendor to vendor and is highly regional. But despite the regional variation, the rou jia mo is still considered a favorite staple of Chinese street food.

If you travel to China, especially Xi'an or other cities in the Shaanxi province, make sure to try one (or two or three) of these historic sandwiches. But if you're not planning on heading to the Eastern Hemisphere any time soon, try to find a local restaurant that specializes in Xi'an cuisine. The Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York has a number of eateries and areas with authentic Chinese offerings. The Golden Shopping Mall in Flushing has a few Xi'an cuisine vendors that could give you a taste of what this great street food is all about.

Have you eaten rou jia mo?

Photo: istolethetv on flickr