One of China’s most popular holiday destinations, Xi’an is known for the Terracotta Warriors and the Ancient City Walls, as well as the abundance of delicious street food! A great place to savour the goodies on offer is the Muslim Quarter, where the streets are lined with restaurants and stalls serving all types of food from savoury to sweet. And also drinks – non-alcoholic, of course.
Foodie or not, you will not regret visiting the Xi’An Muslim Quarter. Located near the Drum Tower and Bell Tower, this street that has existed since the glory days of the legendary Silk Road is not only a must-visit to learn about Chinese Islamic heritage, but also a top spot for delicious halal Xi’an delicacies! Best to come here hungry and with lots of Chinese Renminbi notes as the extravaganza begins from late afternoon and lasts well into the night.
Here are amongst the many tasty treats you can savour at the Xi’an Muslim Quarter:
1. Flatbread in mutton soup (yangrou paomo)
Ask any locals what to eat and the number answer you will get is this specialty of Shaanxi province. Crumbed flatbread is added into a bowl of steaming hot mutton soup, supplemented with chunks of tender mutton meat and vegetables. The pickled garlic and chilli sauce on the side make this dish a real winner.
2. Chinese hamburgers (roujiamo)
A meat sandwich that’s good to eat any time of the day! Roujiamo consists of a serving of delicious filling of shredded meat topped with coriander and green peppers wrapped inside thick and fluffy round bread.
3. Persimmon doughnuts (shi zi bing)
This tasty snack is only available during autumn and winter, which makes it even more not to be missed! The soft and tasty doughnut made from persimmon fruit is good to enjoy plain or with various fillings such as black sesame, rose jam, osmanthus, red bean paste, or ground nuts.
4. Belt noodles (biang biang mian)
This dish is popular not only for its flavours, but also because of its complicated spelling in Chinese, which requires an impressive 57 strokes! The hand-pulled noodles are doused with soy sauce and added with cabbage, peppercorns, and chilli oil. Due to the broad width of the noodles, it is often referred to as belt noodles.
5. Sour and spicy noodles (shao zi mian)
Those who understand Chinese might be amused at its rather peculiar name, which translates to ‘urine smell noodles’. But don’t be alarmed, this noodle dish got its name from the smell of the mixture of vinegar, dried chillies, and Sichuan pepper, resulting in a spicy and sour broth that is simply yummy especially on a rainy day. Usually topped with beef or lamb.
6. Kabob (rou chuan)
Chunks of tender and juicy lamb, mutton, beef, chicken wings, or sausages are seasoned with cumin and chilli and then grilled to perfection over charcoal fire. It’s so good that before you know it, you could’ve downed dozens of sticks in one sitting.
7. Cold noodles (liang pi)
Another Xi’an staple, this noodle dish has the fascinating reputation of being savoury, sweet, tangy, and nutty all at the same time. Hand-made from wheat or rice flour, the noodles are served cold with added vinegar, hot chilli oil, garlic, cucumbers, and bean sprouts.
8. Hammered candy (sutang)
These hammered candies are not only a good souvenir to bring home, but the process of making them is such a delight to watch as well. The hot sugar concoction is repeatedly folded and stretched, transferred on to a wooden stump, sprinkled with nuts, and pounded with big wooden mallets. When the concoction hardens, it is cut into bite-size pieces.
The classic Xi’an flatbread goes very well with a dish (like yangrou paomo), and also good on its own. Crispy on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside, with a hint of sesame seed in its flavours.
10. Potato Tornado
It’s like munching on a never-ending spiral of crisp potato chips! What’s awesome about this snack is you can continue eating it as you walk along the street looking for more food.
11. Glutinous rice cakes (zong zi)
This Chinese delicacy has made its way to Southeast Asian countries, featuring savoury fillings like meat or vegetables, but the original Xi’an version packs a different punch. Wrapped in bamboo leaf, the glutinous rice with added honey is steamed until golden brown and best eaten after it has cooled down.
12. Sweet rice cakes (gui hua gao)
Similar in colour and shape but not in texture, this sweet cake made from glutinous rice and osmanthus flower and topped with dates and honey is a like a sturdy version of the classic crème brulee.
13. Tofu (dou fu nao)
You may be familiar with tofu fa, where soft tofu is served with caramelised sugar but this original Xi’an version is more savoury than sweet. Here, the pudding-like texture of the tofu is further enhanced by added condiments like soy sauce, vinegar, nut, coriander, and chilli.
14. Yogurt drink (suan nai)
Whilst the most popular drink here would be the ubiquitous pomegranate juice available all over the place, there is also the delicious and cutely packaged suan nai to wash down all the delicious treats you’ve eaten. This homemade yogurt drink made from milk and honey is served in a mini glass jug and covered with paper or plastic top which you can jab your straw through. Yummy!
15. Sheep hooves (yang ti zi)
Here’s something for the adventurous foodie! How would you like to bite into sheep hooves? Yes, the foot of an animal may typically be the last part that any meat eater would look for, but think about how you can cross eating another exotic food off your bucket list. Seeing the availability of this fare all over the place, the locals seem to love it so why wouldn’t you? 😉
The kaleidoscope of flavours, smells, and colours make the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an a must-visit for every traveller and foodie at heart.
GETTING THERE: AirAsia flies from Kuala Lumpur to China. Book your flights at airasia.com.