When you think of Xi'an, the first thing that will probably pop up in your mind is the Muslim Quarters - and with good reason! The quarters is known as the hub of the Muslim community in Xi'an, and is inhabited by over 20,000 Muslims. This area is a must-visit for both Muslims and non-Muslims as it is filled with the city's best local snacks and food. The best part is that everything here is halal!
There's so much to eat, do and see here that we just had to have an article solely on the Muslim Quarters. Here's your guide to conquering one of Xi'an's top spots!
P.S. If you need even more reason to visit Xi'an, this will do the trick ?
When to visit
Most shops at the Muslim Quarters open early at around 8am till about 11pm, giving you plenty of time to explore the area to your heart's (and tummy's) content? If you prefer exploring the quarters with lesser crowds (and shorter queues!), the best time to head here is early in the day. But we highly recommend visiting at least once at night, as the atmosphere of the quarters is vastly different from that in the day! The crowd is bigger at night, and the streets tend to be more lively at night.
It's easy getting to the Muslim Quarters by public transportation. Simply alight at Zhonglou metro station and take Exit 1 or 9. If you're heading to other attractions like the Bell Tower, find the exit closest to your destination with this map! Using the right exits will save you both time and energy ?
Stay at the Muslim Quarters
For ease of finding halal food, stay at the Muslim Quarters! The surrounding area is filled with many hotels of varying prices so there's no worry about finding a suitable one, regardless of your budget. We stayed at Skytel Hotel Xian and found the hotel room to be quite cosy! The hotel is a short 15-minute walk from the Muslim Quarters, and a 5-minute walk from Zhonglou metro station - making it super convenient for us to travel around Xi'an.
Most stall owners are unable to converse in English hence equipping yourself with basic knowledge of conversational Chinese is almost a must here! Alternatively, you could download the Google Translate app. In addition to learning the numbers in Chinese, some of the key phrases you should know include "hello", "how much", "could I buy this, please" and "thank you".
We are not fluent in Chinese hence we found it a challenge to converse with the locals. Despite the language barrier, they were still super friendly and warm! They were never without a smile, even when they were hard at work. We absolutely loved how much energy and passion they had☺️ The stall owners sang while they cooked, laughed while they served and are just filled with so much energy throughout the day!
Even if you're not buying anything here, watching them at work is definitely a must when you're at the quarters.
P.S. We did try our hand at bargaining at the food stalls here but it did not work ? We succeeded at the souvenirs market though!
Time to dive into some of the best restaurants at the Muslim Quarters! There's plenty to try here, and most of these are places which we stumbled upon. The key is to explore the area with an open mind. It's pretty amazing to uncover little gems as you go along? We found it easy to order at restaurants, as the menu is written in both English and Chinese!
P.S. As we are not fluent in written Chinese, we found it challenging to find the stalls by its Chinese name, hence we have included pictures of the store fronts to help you locate them!
1. Biang Biang Noodles
Located along Huimin Street (main street), this restaurant specializing in Biang Biang Noodles is hard to miss as the noodles are famous in China's Shaanxi province. Before entering the restaurant, take a moment or two to marvel at the way the noodles here are hand-pulled! One thing that'll definitely stand out is how long and thick the noodles are! The noodles are called 'biang' due to the loud sound they make when slapped against the counter.
The 'live show' in front of the restaurant is not the only thing that'll impress you. We were amazed at how beautiful the restaurant's interior is! The restaurant was clean, and the marbled walls coupled with wooden furniture made it feel like we were in a hipster cafe. We did not have to wait very long for our food either, which was perfect as we were always starving?
We ordered the Characteristic biangbiang surface noodles (RMB28) and the minced beef noodles (RMB18). The portion of noodles was just nice and they were generous with the toppings of black fungus, vermicelli, coriander and meat. Fortunately for us, it was easy to eat the noodles as they were cut to a good length before being served to us. We found the dish to be a little bland but a douse of chilli oil did the trick?
2. Lao Mi Jia Pao Mo (老米家泡馍)
While there are many restaurants along Huimin Street, venturing to the smaller lanes around the quarters will let you stumble on some amazing finds! This restaurant is tucked in one of the side streets but it was still packed with locals. Lao Mi Jia Pao Mo offers Xi'an's signature Yang Rou Pao Mo - a must-try when you're here!
Unlike other restaurants in the quarters where waiters take your orders at the table, orders are made at the counter here but food will be served to you. The queue can get pretty long, so be sure to confirm your orders before lining up!
Xi'an's signature dish is made up of flatbread soaked in spicy (or non-spicy, if you prefer) mutton gravy and topped with chunks of tender beef. We tried the special pita bread soaked in lamb soup (RMB48) and the high-quality pita bread soaked in beef soup (RMB32). Our bread came in bits but you can tell the restaurant to serve the bread as a whole if you prefer breaking the bread yourself!
The bread came with a generous serving of beef, mushrooms and glass noodles. We loved how yummy the soaked flatbread was! If you can't get enough of the gravy, help yourself to the soup at the back of the restaurant. You can add it to your dish for even more flavour and gravy to slurp.
#HHWT Tip: Complete your meal with a cup of hot soy milk here - perfect to warm yourself up, especially during winter!
3. Hui Wen Ren Jia (回文人家)
Of course, there's no way you can visit Xi'an without savouring some steamed dumplings (xiao long bao)! Hui Wen Ren Jia offers soup, steamed and fried dumplings. Plus, there's plenty of fillings for you to take your pick from!
Don't look down at your phones while you wait for your food to arrive? Here, you can watch as the chefs prepare your food at their open-concept kitchen while you wait!
We chose the mutton steamed dumpling (RMB26) and shrimp meat steamed dumpling (RMB32). The dumplings are beautifully-folded and the thickness of the skin is just right! We were impressed at how the dumplings were stuffed to the brim - the flavourful broth oozed in our mouths as we savoured the dumplings ?
But dumplings are not all there is to the menu! We also tried their cold noodles (RMB18) and iron plate roast crispy pancake with cold noodles (RMB18). The latter topped our gastronomic experience here as the spicy, salty and sweet pancake was soft and fluffy. It was so good that we had to order another one to take-away!
Must-try street food
The restaurants in Muslim Quarters are amazing, but the real Muslim Quarter experience is out on the streets! Immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of the main street, as you navigate your way through the crowds. We found that many of the stalls sell the same, popular food items so there's plenty for you to take your pick! Here are some of the street food you cannot miss:
4. Chinese hamburger (Rou Jia Mo)
The Chinese version of the hamburger is bound to make you drool, far more than fast food hamburgers do? For one, these hamburgers are made of fresh, flavourful beef brisket sandwiched between handmade, steamed bread that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The bread is thick but the generous portion of meat complements it perfectly! We enjoyed how tender and flavourful the meat was, the result of it being stewed for hours before being served.
5. Persimmon doughnut (Shi Zi Bing)
At first look, the snack looks like a simple fried ball of dough but the process of making this snack is anything but that! Persimmon is first mashed into a pulp, kneaded into dough, filled with various fillings such as dates and almonds, and finally, fried to perfection ? We particularly loved how soft the dough was! The taste deepened once we bit into the dough, as we could feel the sweet and warm paste fill our mouths.
P.S. Be sure to eat it while it's hot!
6. Jujube cake
If you've always yearned for a snack which tastes good and is also healthy, the jujube cake is your answer! This traditional Xi'an snack is made of sticky rice, rose jam and nuts. The soft and sweet rice, coupled with the fragrant jujube, makes this a truly delectable snack. The best part is that jujubes can help strengthen your kidney functions and improve blood circulation! So there's no worry about eating one too many of this ?
7. Yoghurt drink
While this drink is not unique to Xi'an, you can find it almost everywhere here that you can't resist trying it! The drink is fragrant, and the yoghurt has a moderately thick texture. The sourness of this drink is the perfect complement to all the sweet snacks you’ve been trying? For the most refreshing taste, opt for the chilled yoghurt drinks!
8. Pomegranate juice
If a sour drink is not your cup of tea, the sweet pomegranate juice that is also widely available in the Muslim Quarters will definitely strike your fancy. There are many shops selling this, but we recommend buying from the ones which sell the juice fresh. Regardless of the season, this is one refreshing drink you cannot miss!
9. Hammered candy
As you explore the Muslim Quarters, apart from all the loud and passionate voices of the stall owners, there's bound to be a distinct and almost continous sound you will hear. It's the sound of candy being hammered! Warm sugar is first stretched, and then transferred to a large wooden stump where it is sprinkled with nuts and pounded with big wooden mallets. The pounding goes on for a few minutes until the nuts harden in the warm candy, before it is cut up to pieces and sold. The candy is not just a must-try, but the process of making it is also a must-watch!
10. Cotton candy
Credit: anisha_ram on Instagram
Looking for a snack that'll delight the kids? This will do the trick? Savour cotton candy to your tummy's content as they come in massive sizes here! We were amazed at the many different shapes and designs of the cotton candy, but the one which stood out most was the flower-shaped design.
Although the souvenir stalls are considerably lesser than the food ones, they are still worth a visit! Souvenirs like the Terracota Warriors are much cheaper here than at the attraction itself. Plus, we managed to find some beautiful bookmarks and handmade fans to take home!
#HHWT Tip: Try your hand at bargaining here! We didn't manage to get a huge discount, but we were lucky enough to buy our souvenirs at a cheaper price.
The food and souvenir streets are not all there is to the Muslim Quarters! The area is also home to many of Xi'an's top attractions:
11. Xi’an Great Mosque
Dating back 1,300 years, the Xi'an Great Mosque is constructed to honour the founders of Islam in China. Despite the mosque's old age, many of the structures are well-maintained (when we went, a part of the mosque was undergoing renovations!) and this is mostly attributed to the large amount of financial support given by the authorities due to the historical significance of the mosque.
Take your time exploring the mosque! It is built in the shape of a rectangle - from east to west - and is made up of five huge courtyards.
We fell in love with the mosque as soon as we entered it. The beautiful inscriptions on many of the structures completely amazed us. But what really took our breaths away was the prayer hall. The ceilings are carved with over 600 classical scriptures, in which each letter is shaped in the colourful patterns of grass and flowers. The walls of the prayer hall are lined with 600 pieces of huge wooden boards that are filled with every page of the Quran - 30 are in Chinese, while the others are in Arabic ? It definitely is a sight to behold!
Before leaving the mosque, be sure to drop by the quaint souvenir shop near the entrance! The souvenirs sold here are intricately designed and beautifully decorated. Plus, for the amount of work that goes into creating each souvenir, we found the prices to be super reasonable!
P.S. Here are 4 other incredible mosques in China that'll captivate you!
12. Bell tower
This iconic tower is the largest bell tower structure in China, and one of the best-preserved ones! It is particularly significant to Xi'an as it once marked the geographical centre of the ancient city. As its name suggests, the highlight of the tower is the giant bell that is similar to the Jingyun Bell cast in the Tang Dynasty. Even the decorations and inscriptions on the bell resemble that of the original bell!
The tower looks different both in the day and at night, but we personally felt the grandeur of the building stood out most in the night ?
While you can see the majestic tower from the outside, exploring the interior (entrance fee: RMB35) is quite the experience too! Apart from the huge bell, the tower is also home to a small museum containing exhibits and handwritten notes about the relocation and renovation of the tower. Head to the third level and enjoy a spectacular view of the Muslim Quarters from the top!
#HHWT Tip: There's quite a bit of climbing to get up the bell tower so do wear comfortable shoes.
13. Drum tower
Right across the street, you'll find another iconic tower - the Xi'an Drum Tower! Built in 1380, the tower is home to a huge drum, which used to be beaten at sunset to indicate the end of day. The architecture of the tower is a combination of both the Tang Dynasty and Qing Dynasty styles. What stood out most was that the building was built without the use of any iron nails?
Now, if this guide does not convince you to visit the Xi'an Muslim Quarters, we don't know what will ? The quarters is a haven, especially for Muslims and is definitely a must-visit when you're in Xi'an. And you don't have to worry about how to fit this into your itinerary! We've got you totally ready for your Xi'an adventure with our Muslim-friendly itinerary to the city.