Planning for an adventure in China but want to avoid the crowded major cities? Travel northwest to Shaanxi province and you will find one of the oldest cities in China with a rich history. This city is also the starting point of the Silk Road that links major continents and contributes to the world’s economy once upon a time.
1. A treat for your tummy – Halal eateries everywhere!
Photo by chensiyuan [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Xi’an is the first city in China to be introduced to Islam and till today, it has a large Muslim community. The Muslim Quarter is at located in the city and the only way to enjoy it is to walk the lane with an empty tummy.
A bowl of suan la fen (hot sour rice noodle) at a local restaurant cost RMB 6. Standby a drink if you’re not a fan of chilli oil but slurp down the soup if you are.
Glutinous cake dipped in date sauce cost about RMB 3. A good snack to end of the night but don’t start with this as it may fill you up too fast.
Unleavened bread is made without yeast and will instantly fill you up. These breads are hardy and were eaten by the merchants travelling the Silk Road. They vary in shapes and are made with different herbs and ingredients. Take your time in tasting them and if your luggage space allows, bring some home. Price starts from RMB 3 onwards.
A heaven of dried fruits and nuts, you will find fresh and pre-packed dried Chinese dates, banana, kiwi and an assortment of nuts. Sellers are rather friendly but they may not like you tasting their display.
Xi’an’s version of murtabak – made fresh when you order.
Freshly made peanut candy – the traditional way. Be awed by the arm power of these young men pounding the candy into shape.
How to get there: Take a train and get off at the Bell Tower Station. Walk to the Drum Tower and find Moslem Street behind the Drum Tower
However, Halal food is not limited to the Muslim Quarters. We also found a few street hawkers selling Halal food just outside our hotel.
Mala fen (hot rice noodle) made with peppercorn that will fire up and numb your tounge and yes, served in a plastic bag for takeaway. Cost RMB 5 and eaten cold.
So put on your adventure cap and roam around the streets. Be surprised at the Halal food heaven that you can find!
2. Easy on the pocket
Accommodation, travel and food are generally cheaper than major China cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.
A decent meal can cost you RMB 20 and this includes a main meal, drink and snacks for later. If you’re travelling in a group, sharing the meal will not only share the cost but also lets you taste more.
Flagging a taxi is a way to getting around however, the traffic jams can keep you on the road for a long time. Xi’an’s train system is impressive and you should ask around to see if you can get to your destination via the train. Major attractions like the Bell Tower and Muslim Quarters can be accessed via the train so bring along your guide book and ask as you walk along.
The train station looks very much like Hong Kong’s and Singapore’s. If you’re unsure where to go, ask and you will be guided.
3. Seasonal fruits like you have never seen before
These were the fruits sold at the start of the summer season. The shops just outside our hotel were lined with different seasonal fruits and what caught our eyes were watermelon and honeydew the size of an orange!
#HHWT Tip: Share these goodies with your family and friends back home. Ask the sellers for a box and get them to pack some fruits for you. When you’re at the airport, get the box plastic wrapped and check them in.
Strawberries and tomatoes were also in season and we can’t run away from the sexy shades of red lining up the streets!
4. Home of the Terracotta Warriors
The clay armies are commissioned by the first Emperor of China – Qin Shi Huang to protect him in the afterlife. There are thousands of armies, strategically placed in a direction towards his tomb (that up to today has not been uncovered). The excavation of these armies is in phases and each plot houses hundreds and thousands of soldiers armed with weapon, chariots and horses. Although there are thousands of these clay armies, their body type and faces are modeled after his actual army during those days so you won’t find two of the same!
The Warriors are housed at the Mousoleum of Emperor Qin and is open every day but do check the opening hours as it may vary by the season.
#HHWT Tip: AVOID national holidays as this place gets extremely crowded. If you’re travelling without a tour group, engage a licensed English speaking tour guide on site. Their service ranges from RMB 150 – 180 and they’ll give you insights that travel guide books don’t tell you.
5. Relax and breathe in the relatively cleaner air
As compared to other cities in China, Xi’an is not densely populated with heavy industries. Even the train commuters at 6pm are a lot more relaxed and you won’t be seeing a crazily packed train station ala Tokyo/Singapore here.
However, major attractions can be crowded during National Holidays as residents of other cities travel here to so do time your travel well.
Next destination – Xi’an, China!
Halal food is getting more accessible in China and spotting a mosque or a halal eatery is starting to be a norm if you know where to look. By far, Xi’an has been an interesting place to experience Chinese cuisine prepared by Muslims for Muslims and this should definitely be on your travel bucket list!