Sometimes it’s not the main attractions on your tour that provides your most vivid memories. Don’t get me wrong – on my recent On The Go Tour of China (Great Wall & Warriors), I was wowed by the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors – they were everything I expected and more. But what I didn’t expect was the pleasant surprise from one of the less advertised side tours in Xi’an.
While Xi’an is best known as the home of Terracotta Warriors, it has several other less known attractions, one of them being the Muslim Quarter. The sounds, smells and sights are a veritable feast for the senses.
A little bit of history
The history of the Muslim Quarter dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 9 AD) when traders from Arabic countries visited Xi’an, which was the starting point of the famous Silk Road. They established themselves in what is now the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an, married and raised families. They intermarried with the local inhabitants who converted to the Muslim faith and, over generations, inherited the same physical characteristics of the native Hui people. Gradually the population increased, until it now forms a tight knit community of over 60,000.
The Muslim Quarter is situated north of West Street in the city centre and covers several blocks. There is one long main street with several smaller streets branching off into narrow winding alleys that remind one more of a souk than a Chinese market. The streets are crowded with vendors shouting out their wares.
Food, glorious food
And the food… Just the smell of it alone is mouthwatering. While the Muslim Quarter is touted as a tourist attraction, it is also a favourite of the locals for its “fast food”. For the less daring, try the skewers of freshly roasted beef or lamb, or try the Yoangrou Paomo (unleavened bread in mutton stew). Or if you’re more adventurous try the rouijiamo – marinated beef or lamb inside a freshly baked bun.
Is it safe? Just look at the long queues. That’s always a sure sign that the food is not only good, but safe. If you want something sweet try the freshly-made fruit pies made with persimmon. Or pick up a bag of the locally-made candy.
In addition to the food, there are stalls selling local handicrafts and souvenirs.
If you’re just in Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors, you’re missing something special. Don’t miss the Muslim Quarter – and bring your appetite!
Jeffrey Groberman is a well-known Canadian humor writer and travel blogger. You can follow his mis-adventures at www.grobetrotting.com