Xi’an Street Food Memories in China
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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