The Muslim Quarter by night
After arriving at xi’an yesterday evening we headed to the Muslim quarter for dinner.
In the evening the Muslim quarter was absolutely rammed with vendors selling different foods than we’d seen throughout the rest of China. Steamed corn on the cob and sweet potatoes, stir fried new potatoes and deep fried bananas seemed to be really popular here!
There were also lots of people selling trinkets and other touristy bits like kites and selfie sticks but the main focus on these streets seemed to be food!
Due to my foot still being an issue as we walked around the streets we wanted somewhere to sit down to eat dinner so popped into a small restaurant along the street vendors.
Using their translated English menu I ordered vegetable fried rice whilst leah ordered egg fried rice, alongside a plum juice that we’d read was really popular here. The juice was so sweet and had a bit of a funny after taste but was worth the ¥3 that we paid for it. To accompany our rice we tried a skewer each being cooked on the grill at the front of the restaurant (tofu and pork), the flavours were really good despite the presentation on the stick!
We wandered the streets a little more and got slightly lost in the buzz of the side streets for over an hour. They were so busy! Some streets seemed to have particular specialities such as the majority of vendors selling grilled food on sticks, naan breads, deep fried meats and desserts. We saw one dessert was particularly popular here, a yellow cake with dates on the top dipped in rose water (leah tried this and the rose water was a bit too over whelming to what she was expecting).
We didn’t wake up until late this morning and left the hostel just before 11am. After walking around the Muslim quarter last night we were really excited to see the Great Mosque that was at the heart of the area.
The streets immediately surrounding the mosque were a little different to the ones we walked through last night. The streets were still full of vendors but it seemed more like a market place as they were selling products rather than food/ snacks. The majority of stalls were selling bags (‘north face’seems popular here) , photographs, paintings and other creative merchandise such as wood carvings.
Some were really good and I would have loved to buy something for my room back in England but I didn’t think that I would have room in my rucksack…
The Great Mosque
We arrived at the Great Mosque just before lunch and paid ¥25 to enter (Muslims go free) and we’re so glad that we visited!
Leah was given a black shawl on entry to cover her shoulders and we were given a small guide book on the Mosque itself. The book explained the history of the Mosque, the artefacts that we could find in the ground, as well the fundamental aspects of Islam.
We were both really exited to see what a Chinese mosque would look like! Due to the cultural revolution and China’s preference for Confucianism (and to an extent Buddhism) we weren’t sure what this Mosque – the largest in China- would be like.
Aesthetically it was a mixture between ‘typical’ Chinese architecture that we’d seen constantly these past few weeks; courtyards with pagodas, fish ponds, calligraphy on the walls as well as dragons on the roofs.There were also more traditional Islamic elements such as the positioning of the mosque (facing towards Mecca), the large prayer hall, minaret and stone tablets.
We even got to witness one of the call to prayers! A command was called over the loud speakers dotted around the grounds as men flocked to the prayer room. Leah and I were not able to enter the prayer room itself but we were able to watch what was going on via the large television screens set up outside the room – connected to cameras inside.
Food in the Muslim Quarter
In Xi’an there are a few local dishes that we wanted to try a version of before we left in a few days so set about today ticking some off of our list.
The first one was a bread soup called yangrou paomo. You are given two pieces of bread which you break into little pieces and then add to a soup prepared by the chef. Last night we’d seen a few restaurants selling this with lots of people outside so went in search of one for lunch. After trying three different soup restaurants we were told (in English) that it was impossible to have the soup without the mutton or pork in it – that’s me out…
Leah wasn’t that hungry yet so we were going to find some lunch for me and then head back to one of the soup restaurants for her. Instead though we both ended up getting vegetable soup from another small restaurant which was really tasty!
We’d also been really intrigued by all of the desserts being sold in the market place so stopped by one after lunch to have a look. We bought two different types of dessert to try. One had ground nuts and dried fruits inside and was encased in a pastry case (I Completely forgot about egg in pastry – I’m a terrible vegan) – it was really tasty though…. The second was a little brown cube covered in white sprinkles which we think may have been deep fried sugar – that one didn’t taste very good…
We carried on walking around the side streets a little more and were caught in a sudden downpour of rain! Completely soaked through, we carried on walking in the rain and passed lots of fresh produce stalls down one street in particular. The vegetables and fruits looked amazing! We even saw a few things we’d never seen before (circular aubergine and walnuts with their skin on!).
We didn’t want to head back to the hostel as it was still only early afternoon but was absolutely sodden from the rain. We started looking for a tea house/ cafe we could go in but the only one we could find was a Starbucks or a Chinese equivalent! We’re trying to stay away from the international high street brands as much as possible at the moment as Starbucks has enough money…
After failing to locate somewhere to go for a cup of tea (a very British thing to do when it’s raining outside) we walked back to the hostel via the subway. Here we saw a man actually selling a puppy out of a box… In the subway station! We even saw one guy buy one! The puppies were so small- they definitely were old enough to be separated from their mum- and after one had been bought it was given away in a carrier bag!
Our return to the Muslim Quarter
We went back to the Muslim quarter for dinner – yes again! There were so many variations of dishes there to try but we were really craving grilled vegetables and ended up with an absolutely delicious and simple dinner. A whole aubergine each, grilled and seasoned heavily with garlic; mushrooms seasoned with oregano and a freshly baked naan (the ones I get in England are made with oil and not butter but I didn’t think about this until our way home!).