Sights, Sounds and Smells of Xi’an Muslim Quarter 回民街30 November, 2013
The best place to get Terracotta Warriors souvenirs is surprisingly not at the 秦始皇兵马俑 Warriors Museum – it is at Xi’an Muslim Quarter 回民街. Don’t be tempted by the 2 Yuan Terracotta Warriors souvenir offered at the souvenir stalls outside the museum – they are typically are of low quality and might not survive the trip back home! Here at the Xi’an Muslim Quarter, you will find all sorts of tourist souvenirs, knick-knacks of all kinds and of course great food!
Most of the Muslim population of Xi’an is originally descended from Arab traders that migrated here after travelling for months along the Silk Road to trade with China. And the result of this is the creation of a bustling Muslim Quarter in the heart of Xi’an – many of their descendants are still devout Muslims (although they might look just like any other Chinese) so you won’t find pork and other non-halal food here at the Muslim Quarter.
To get to the Muslim Quarter from Xi’an City Wall 西安城墙, just take a walk along South Street (a straight road) for 15-20 minutes from the South Gate and you will then see the prominent Xi’an Bell Tower 钟楼 at the centre of a roundabout. Take the underground tunnel to get across to the other side of the road (just follow directions to the Xi’an Drum Tower 鼓楼) and you will be at the entrance to the Xi’an Muslim Quarter 回民街. In the evenings, both the Drum Tower and Bell Tower just looks spectacular (see picture below)!
Once you enter the Muslim Quarter (or some call it Muslim Cultural Street), you will see lots of people, street cooking and the neon lights advertising the various street food available!
Here at Muslim Quarter, you find all sorts of Terracotta Warriors and just like at the Warriors Museum, each of these statues and magnets are differentiated by ranks from the general to the iconic kneeling archer to the foot soldier (regardless of rank, they cost the same!).
The Muslim Cultural Street is not exactly a street but made up of a number of streets (each with their own souvenir shops and food stalls) but there are two main streets which you can walk along to explore the bustling market – these 2 streets form a L-shape; just follow the crowd along the first long street and you will eventually see people starting to turn left into an even more crowded and narrower street and you have reached the second street. We walked as far as the crowds start to thin along the second street and we then decided to turn back from where we started – we estimated that it will take about 1.5 hours just to walk around the Muslim Cultural Street (not factoring time to stop to browse souvenirs and eat) so bring some water and wear a good pair of shoes and of course money to explore this exciting area!
There are lots of barbeque food on offer and the most common BBQ food here is lamb skewers but they also have lots of other food e.g. chicken, beef, squid (you won’t find pork skewers here at the Muslim Quarter).
Some of the street food you should try here include the Yang Rou Pao Mo 羊肉泡馍 – Mutton Soup With Flatbreads, and Rou Jia Mo 肉夹馍 – Spiced Shredded Mutton in Wheat Bread.
贾三 Soup Dumplings are very popular at Xi’an 回民街. A Xi’an specialty, these appetizing dumplings are similar to xiao long bao (soup dumplings). They’re filled with mutton, beef or prawns and savory gravy that squirts out when you bite into the baozi. They’re served with a vinegar dipping sauce plus red chili and spicy Sichuan pepper. The restaurant 贾三 is one of the most popular restaurants to enjoy soup dumplings – you can expect long queues during dinner time.
Besides steamed dumplings, you can enjoy a lot of other dishes within the 贾三 restaurants. 贾三 is located along the main street of Muslim Quarters – just look out for the intricate design of its door (as seen in the picture above).
To order your food, you will need to go to the front counter to order and pay – you will then be issued with a receipt; you then place your receipt on the table. The restaurant is divided into a few sectors each managed by a 贾三 staff member who will monitor your order and bring them to you when the food is ready.
Another signature dish at 回民街 – Biang Biang noodles – known for its thickness and sound when it is being prepared. (also known as 裤带面). Along the Muslim Cultural Street, you will see lots of food stalls slamming noodle flour onto tables creating the “Biang Biang” sound – that’s how the name Biang Biang noodles came about. Another thing to note is you will not be able to find alcohol sold openly here along the Muslim Cultural Street because drinking alcohol is against Islamic rules.
If you are thinking of getting some dried food items back home – right at the entrance to the Muslim Cultural Street, you will find a large departmental store selling all kinds of local products. You will find smaller shops selling these products along the street too but I find that the price at this departmental store is quite reasonable especially for big packets of local products.
One such local produce you should get here in Xi’an is red dates (see picture below). The red dates here are produced locally and are quite big. The prices of these red dates are also much cheaper than if you were to get them in Singapore.