The largest difference for the larger Xi’an population is, of course, their religion which though following the tenants of Islam is also decidedly Chinese in nature. Even the Xian Great Mosque, the central point of the Muslim quarter is of mixed Islamic and Chinese architecture, further exemplifying the intertwining of the two great beliefs and cultures. Even with the Chinese styled Islamic beliefs this difference of shared history and ideological backgrounds tends to create a margin between those living in the Muslim Quarter and those living outside.
Daily life in the Muslim Quarter today is similar to that of several hundred years ago; food is prepared, markets are cleaned, and old friends sit around a steaming pot of tea to gossip and reminisce. This has always been a close community filled with exotic shops and savory restaurants. The imperial records of the Tang Dynasty noted at least 5 outstanding restaurant owners and traders that had moved to Xi’an to establish their craft. Visiting the quarter, it is amazing to think that these cobbled streets, quaint restaurants and smiling faces are all direct line descendants of the original area established over 40 generations ago.
One of the main things that has been drawing people, both locals and foreign, to this area for generations, is the food, from the multitude of ka-bobs to the street snacks and desserts the selection is as unique as it is various. The ka-bobs offer everything from the traditional mutton and beef to spicy chicken wings and whole river fish. While the traditional Yang Rou Pau Mo (Crumbled unleavened bread soaked in Mutton stew) is always a great warm-er-upper on those cold winter days. The sweat rice cake desserts and candied dates are a great snack while exploring the dusty streets and quiet shops.
The best way to explore the area is to simply get lost it will happen anyway so it might just as well happen on your own terms). The quarter is peppered with no named streets and small back allies that lead to hidden court yards and ancient residences. While it is a close knit community, to wander into a private area will more often lead to a cup of tea and a smile than it will to being brusquely shooed away. The small sites and experiences that you will take away from this afternoon of being lost will more than make up for the odd glances and toothless smiles that come your way.
Founded by traders, shopping is as interwoven in the cultural tapestry as is the local cuisine. Looking past the “tourist market” antique furniture, silk, rugs, and wood carvings are just of the few shops that dot this area. Not much of the shopping actually is done on the main street of the quarter but instead on many of the side streets in stores that are not always plainly marked. It can be a challenge to find good deals but they are there and waiting to be found.
One of the best markets in the entire city, inside and outside of the Muslim Quarter, is the Bird and Flower Market, held every Wednesday and Sunday in the North West corner of the quarter, this market has everything a person could want, from common household wares and clothing, to birds and fish of all breeds and sizes. One of the most unique items offered is the chance to buy, bet, or simply watch cricket matches. Peer through the throngs of old men into the old earthen ware ring as two silver black crickets jab and hop their tiny hearts to victory. This is something that is uniquely Chinese and is an experience not to be missed.
When the exploring is done and the local food has been tasted, it’s time to set out on the trail of the many unique sites inside the quarter. The most important and probably most exciting is the Great Mosque, one of the oldest and best preserved mosques in existence in China. Taking up over twelve hundred square meters it is a large site consisting of four courtyards landscaped with gardens, niches, and paths