Xi’an is indeed an amazing city where you can find a unique place: the muslim quarter. I consider the muslim quarter of Xi’an, or hui min jie (Muslim street) a must-do activity as it is one of the most interesting areas in town. And what makes it so exceptional? The food! And since I love trying different foods where I travel, the Muslim quarter of Xi’an was indeed a must go place in town.
Xi’an large muslim community serves up street food in a labyrinth of narrow interconnected streets that develop away from the main road. I went on a Saturday early afternoon and it was acceptably crowded. As I entered the food area, I notices straight away its authenticity: lots of signs, amazing colours, strong smells, unique people, the Muslim quarter of Xi’an definitely has it all, and has probably not changed much since its inception over 1000 years ago, when Xi’an was the starting point of the ancient Silk Road. In those times, a number of merchants and overseas students from Persia and other Arabic countries, called Hui by the local population, traveled to Xi’an for business and stud, settling down on present Muslim street.
I did my walk going with the flow, getting lost in the maze of small, smelly streets bustling with lots of hungry locals doing their normal shopping, and no tourists at all, since winter is the low tourist season in Xi’an.
The Muslim quarter of Xi’an is a postcard every turn of your head, so I took lots of pictures while I tasted lots of delicious traditional food, snacking, juggling food and the camera with both hands, and walking my way from stall to stall. The chaotic ambiance was made even worse by the constant stream of bikes, scooters and carts trying to force their way through the crowd along block after block of some of the greatest street food. A massive cauldron of deliciousness, a whirlwind of cooking, baking, sizzling, where most of the cooking is done on small coal-fired stoves or griddles.
The list of dishes available is endless. I started in an area where stalls and shops offered dumpling soups with beef, bowls of noodles with meaty broth poured over, different types of breads, filled pancakes, spicy chilli peanuts, chickens roasting on rapidly turning spits. There was a guy pulling noodles, and ladies with tiny carts with a griddle on top making a tofu dish with chilli and scallion.
I then stumbled upon the meat area, where locals women haggled with butchers for discounts. There were stalls offering meat-stuffed flat biscuits, cumin lamb skewers, lamb pastrami and more.
Next I found a street where dried fruits, candies, spices, homemade yogurt, date cakes and honey were sold. Lots of shops offered crispy Uyghur flatbread cooked on the inside of smoking cylindrical ovens. A real mix of Chinese and Arabic cuisine!
The streets are many and tend to repeat themselves after a while, but there are locals playing cards or traditional Mahjong game, and shops selling local crafts to distract you from all that food, as well as some ancient architectural buildings to put your eyes on.
A visit of 3 hours will do, though you can surely spend much more time there. I left at 5pm, but I am told that after 6pm the market really gets crowded, getting crazier as the night wears on.
The Muslim quarter of Xi’an is an amazing place and a wonderful way to experience a culture within a culture. Not to be missed!
For more choice of tours in Xi’an, consult http://asianitinerary.com/lily-xian-private-tours/