Xi’an Street Food Memories in China

07
Jan 2018

Standing at attention in massive warrior poses, the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi’an are one of the most visited sites in China. I can’t argue that the focus isn’t well deserved. The massive stone soldiers are indeed worthy.  However, if you venture a little off the beaten path to a local Xian street food market, you’ll find one of the most memorable experiences to be had in this city. Loud, chaotic and filled with delicious street food, the Muslim Market left quite an impressions.

Chilis at Xi'an Market

street food dumplings

I am thrilled to see the niche of Culinary Tourism explode in recent years. What better way to connect with a culture than breaking bread and learning about other cultures through the common language of food: the great communicator.

Beyond the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an, China

I wasn’t expecting the call to prayer from the Muslim Quarter to be one of the most memorable sounds from my trip to China with Viking River Cruises. The sound filled a neighborhood in the bustling city of Xi’an, one of China’s ancient capitals.

xian street food

This city is well known for its main attraction: the Terra Cotta Warriors, a bucket list destination often topping everyone’s itinerary when visiting China.

Truth be told, it is indeed one of the most magical discoveries I have ever seen.

I worked my way through hundreds of soldiers, chariots, and tourists at the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum. The previous day, I climbed a challenging section of The Great Wall of China. After such magnificent highlights, I craved some street life and wanted to mix with the locals in Xi’an.

Xian street food

Muslim Street and street market Xian, China

When I asked a tour guide and hotel concierge about visiting the Muslim Quarter, I found mixed reviews. Safety seemed to be a concern. I brought my street smarts, stayed aware of my surroundings and was handsomely rewarded with an authentically local experience. This was where I discovered Xi’an beyond the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Muslim Street and street market Xian, China

Xi’an was the capital of 13 different imperial dynasties and tells a unique story. As part of the caravan route to Central Asia and the Middle East, the city was a melting pot, bringing together people of many different cultures. The particular area known as the Muslim Quarter was settled by merchants and descendants of Persians, Arabs and central Asians who fled Mongol invasions during the Ming Dynasty. Called the Hui by the locals, their population in China numbers about 10.5 million people. Currently, in the Muslim Quarter, residents are estimated around 20,000.

Street food in Xi'an

Soft shell crabs with 5 spice powder

Although I knew I was visiting a Muslim area, the call to prayer caught me off guard. The rhythmic chanting echoed through the narrow side streets that afternoon. As I entered the Hanguang Gate I had just finished a bowl of green tea ice cream from a chic shop that would have been at home in any city in the world.

The sound from the muezzin filled the air as dusk settled in over the neighborhood. Xi’an surprised me with all it had to offer beyond the infantrymen standing guard over Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor.

Muslim Street and street market Xian, China

Huiman, the main street, was lined with food vendors and restaurants. Vast piles of dried fruits and nuts, unique mushrooms and unusual eggplants were abundant. Many of the vendors featured barbecued meats on skewers, a specialty of the market. Xi’an is famous for its handmade noodles and I found them alongside the freshest of ingredients for toppings.

xian street food

Cold noodles in all shapes and sizes came with tangy sauce, bean sprouts, and chili oil. Sour, sweet, nutty and herbal flavors danced on the tip of my tongue. Soup dumplings were smoky in a vinegary broth infused with shrimp shells. Juice flowed from ripe pomegranates and bright, flame-colored persimmons were the main ingredient for translucent, sugary, soft pies. I appreciated the diversity of what was on offer even if in many cases it was just from afar. This was a slice of dining adventure quickly disappearing in other parts of the country.

Read the rest of the article – Beyond the Terra Cotta Warriors to the X’ian Muslim Quarter on Food, Wine + Travel

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xian street food

  1. It looks like an exciting place to visit! I loved the pictures as well. Especially the “Soft shell crabs with 5 spice powder” it looks really crispy and tasty 😉

    • alison says:

      They were definitely the most favorite of my traveling partner. She had a good description-like they were covered with a wonderful Old Bay spice powder. Yum!

  2. Marissa says:

    This is so fascinating! I had no idea there would be a Muslim Quarter in that area of China either. I can imagine your surprise hearing the call to prayer.

  3. Never been to China but hope to go someday. The diversity of the food there is crazy! Can’t wait to try some! Soup dumplings sounds good. By the way, never been on a Vikings cruise. Did you enjoy it?

  4. Linda says:

    I was so glad I read this blog post. We are going to China with Viking in September. I will read your other post too! Thanks for sharing this tip about visiting the Muslim section for food. We have found as we travelled that local food markets offer great variety of fresh foods. We will try to visit when we are in China. I agree with you about the call to prayer. We visited Oman and it was magical to hear it echo through the towns. Thanks for sharing this!

  5. Rachael says:

    I love being able to try new street foods while traveling! Some of those street foods look amazing, but I am not sure about the soft shelled crab.

  6. Skye Class says:

    That all just made me really hungry. I could totally go for a bowl of Chinese noodles right now. I wonder if there’s a culinary tour I could take while I’m there. I’d probably just get lost trying to find everything.

    • alison says:

      I can be geographically challenged as well Skye. No worries, the Market is very well known and near other tourist attractions. You would have no trouble finding it, but a food tour would be a fun way to explore.

  7. Andra says:

    This sounds like an interesting combo – wandering around a Muslim neighbourhood next to one of China’s iconic attraction, the Terracotta warriors. It’s nice that you didn’t let the rumours about safety stay in your way!

  8. Thx for the great post, Alison. I had no idea that there is a significant Muslim presence in China. that’s why I love reading great blogs like yours. I always learn something new!

  9. Wow I had no idea there was a vibrant Muslim quarter in Xian! Are those pomegranates in your photo? While I want to visit the Terra Cotta Army in Xian, I think I now need to visit the Muslim Quarter too!

  10. Your photos make me want to go to Xian! I thought the only reason to go is the terra cotta warriors. But my mouth waters at all those dumplings and soft shell crabs, especially the latter!

  11. Adelina says:

    I had no idea Xi’an had a Muslim quarter or much about it’s history beyond the terracotta warriors. Being Chinese descent I’ve been wanting to get over there and explore. I’ve been to Hong Kong where my family is from but this is just so different. Is that a pile of pomegranates? Looks so appetizing!

  12. Paige says:

    The presentation of those pomegranates is so enticing! I’d love to snatch one up and snack away. I’m glad that finding the Muslim Quarter allowed you to see a beautiful side of Xi’an’s street food!

  13. Seeing all the pictures of street food in China, I am tempted to go out for a Chinese meal today 🙂 Did you try anything weird too? I would be scared to experiment.

  14. Lovely, colorful photos of the street food in Xian. Pinned!