Salaam and enter, good guest. Welcome to the Muslim Quarter – a conglomeration of streets including the Beiyuanmen Street, the North Guangji Street, the Xiyangshi Street and the Dapiyuan Street. A prominent area in the city of Xian, the quarter is a thousand years old. While the existence of the quarter might seem a bit surprising at first, it is logical once you think about it.After all, Xian was the eastern end of the trade route famously known as the Silk Road.
Foreigners who settled here intermarried amongst the local and produced what is today known as the Hui community numbering 60,000 in Xian. So I hope you brought your appetites along for the ride because trust me – you’ll wish you had.
Beiyuanmen - Xicang Nanxiang
Beiyuanmen – The Bartering Street – Great Mosque – Xiyang Shi – Xicang Nanxiang This is the best route to follow, so you can take in the sights, sounds, smells and souvenirs of this area. Make sure you linger wherever you want to and watch out for the pickpockets and the motorcycles!
We are currently west of Zhoung Lou or the Bell Tower and at the Drum Tower. You can buy tickets to explore this but let’s do that some other time. Right now, let’s stroll down Beiyuanmen and enjoy some fresh pomegranate juice and snacks from the stalls. Mark the place on the left further down the road.
This is where a shadow puppet show takes place in the evening, so remember it so you can come back. Don’t forget to try out the hulatang (thick soup) and peanut flavoured liangpi (cold noodles). The restaurant serving these is just after the archway that stands at the entrance to Xiyang Shi.
For those wanting an early break is the Gao Jia Da Yuan, a home that once belonged to a rich family. The buildings and their original architecture have been preserved and tourists can enjoy the traditional Chinese tea ceremony, watch a puppet show and take a look at the antiquities on display.
The Bartering Street
The bartering street has two entries. You can either come here from behind the Drum tower, or if you follow the route we’re doing, you can enter here from the archway, go down Xiyang Shi and take the first left into an alley of shops. If you take the first route you come upon a cafe, where you can rest your feet before plunging into the colourful chaos that is the bartering street.
Make sure your haggling skills are polished and ready because you’ll need them. This is where you can buy all sorts of souvenirs – from silk scarves to name chops (with your name carved on them in Chinese characters) to paintings from the Hu county, not to mention the traditional Shaanxi handicrafts. Have fun bargaining!
Need a break? Take in the calm Great Mosque which was built around 700 AD. The architecture is a little unusual for a mosque in that it is Chinese in style complete with curved roof ends and no domes or minarets, which one usually expects. It has a courtyard that displays old stone tablets and carvings. The mosque is an active, functioning mosque calling the devout to prayer every day. Make sure that you follow the rules and dress appropriately.
Come back to Xiyang Shi and let’s continue. I’m sure all that shopping and haggling has made you hungry. You’re in the right place. Now you will see stores and restaurants vying for space. Don’t miss the store that specializes in salted meat. Another no-miss is biang biang, a type of noodles. The dish itself is simple but the character is very complex comprising of 58 strokes. If you proceed further you come to the vegetable and fruit market.
Follow the vegetable markets till you come to a T crossing. The left turn will take you to the bird and flower market where you can see people purchasing not just birds, but larvae and grasshoppers for birdfeed. If you are lucky, you might even get to see a cricket fight.
Take your time, linger, bargain and taste all you want. I’ll wait for you. This is definitely an experience to be savoured well.