Muslim Quarter

the muslim quarter & the great mosque of xi’an

Monday, April 20: After leaving the Drum Tower, I venture into the heart of the Muslim Quarter to explore.  I’m assaulted by colorful banners, food carts and stalls, along with the delicious smells of dumpling soup, beef or mutton Rou Jia Mo (Chinese Hamburger), northwestern style noodles, and Yangrou Paomo, or crumbled flatbread (unleavened bread) in mutton stew.  It’s noisy and lively, a vibrant scene where I can wander along aimlessly among the crowds toward the Great Mosque.

The Muslim Quarter in Xi'an

The Muslim Quarter in Xi’an

Below is a stall of stuffed flatbread, simply dough fried on a large pan surface and pressed down. Once fried, the flatbread is opened and stuffed with meat.

Food vendors in the Muslim Quarter

Food vendors in the Muslim Quarter

Food vendors in the Muslim Quarter

Food vendors in the Muslim Quarter

The lively Muslim Quarter in Xi'an

The lively Muslim Quarter in Xi’an

Food for sale!

Food for sale!

a Muslim food vendor

a Muslim food vendor

Sea creatures

Sea creatures

Enticing food

Enticing food

Muslim Quarter in Xi'an

Muslim Quarter in Xi’an

Muslim Quarter

Muslim Quarter

After a leisurely stroll, I wind up at the Great Mosque, the largest mosque in China.  Established in 742 during the Tang dynasty (618-907), it was restored and widened in the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.  It was built in the shape of a rectangle from east to west, and it is divided into four courtyards.

Islam was introduced into Northwest China by Arab merchants and travelers from Persia and Afghanistan during the mid-7th century when some of them settled down in China and married women of Han Nationality. Their descendants became the Muslims of today. The Muslims played an important role in unifying China during the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. Hence, other mosques were also built to honor them (Travel China Guide: Great Mosque).

In the first courtyard is the Wooden Memorial Archway with upturned eaves and glazed roof tiles.  This archway was built at the beginning of the 17th century, dating back over 390 years.

Entrance to the Great Mosque

Entrance to the Great Mosque

Entry gate to the Great Mosque

Entry gate to the Great Mosque

In the middle of the second courtyard are three connected memorial gateways supported with four pillars.  On the top of the main gate is a title inscribed in Chinese calligraphy: “The Court of the Heaven.”  Stone carved fences are around the gateways with two passages on both sides.  This stone complex was built in the Ming dynasty.

Another gateway to the Great Mosque

The Stone Memorial Gateway

Gardens at the Great Mosque

Gardens at the Great Mosque

Pavilion at the Great Mosque

Pavilion at the Great Mosque

Another gate at the Great Mosque

Another gate at the Great Mosque

Yizhen Pavilion is also known as Phoenix Pavilion.  The main pavilion in the center is hexagonal with cornices and pinnacles, which looks like the head of a phoenix. Pavilions on two sides are triangular with reflexed wings.  These three pavilions are connected in a unique shape, as if a phoenix is spreading its wings.

pathway leading to the Great Mosque

pathway leading to the Great Mosque

Yizhen Pavilion, also known as Phoenix Pavilion

Yizhen Pavilion, also known as Phoenix Pavilion

The Great Mosque melds Arabic motifs into familiar Chinese designs, making it different from mosques found in other Islamic countries.  The mosque has neither domes nor traditional-style minarets.

The Worship Hall has a turquoise roof and exquisite carvings on the doors and eaves.

Final gateway to the Great Mosque

Final gateway to the Worship Hall at the Great Mosque

The main hall can hold 1,000 people at a time and according to traditional custom, prayer services are held five times everyday respectively at dawn, noon, afternoon, dusk and night.

Door at the Great Mosque

Door to the Worship Hall

On the inside of the Worship Hall, all the pages of the Holy Koran are carved in the 600 pieces of huge wooden boards; 30 of them are in Chinese while the others are in Arabic.

Doorway at the Great Mosque

Doorway to the Worship Hall

In 1956, the mosque was decreed to be an important historical and cultural site under the protection of the Shaanxi Provincial Government.  In 1988, it was promoted to be one of the most important sites in China.

Eaves on the Great Mosque

Eaves on the Worship Hall

Islamic motifs

Islamic motifs

Islamic motifs

Islamic motifs

Islamic motifs

Islamic motifs

a hall flanking the Great Mosque

a hall flanking the Great Mosque’s main prayer hall

looking through a gateway to the main prayer hall

looking through a gateway to the main prayer hall

In the middle of the third courtyard, “The Introspection Tower” serves as the minaret, which is the tallest building in the whole mosque for calling Muslims to prayer.  With two stories, three layers of eaves, and an octagonal roof, it would be very impressive if it weren’t being renovated on this day!

Pavilion being renovated

Pavilion being renovated

relief sculpture

relief sculpture

Returning to the entrance, I see the Wooden Memorial Archway from the other side.

back to the first courtyard

back to the first courtyard

The Five-Room Hall sits at the entrance to the second courtyard.

looking back on the grounds of the Great Mosque from the main gate

The Five Room Hall

As I make my way out of the mosque and back into the Muslim Quarter, I find these interesting T-shirts with pictures of “Oba Mao.” 🙂

Oba Mao

Oba Mao

Suddenly, I’m back in the bustling Muslim Quarter, where suddenly I’m feeling very hungry.  Though all the food looks enticing, I’m determined to find a bread soup that one of my colleagues told me about.

Muslim chefs

Muslim chefs

Food vendors in the Muslim Quarter

Food vendors in the Muslim Quarter

back to the Muslim Quarter

back to the Muslim Quarter

Muslim Quarter

Muslim Quarter

Jujube, otherwise known as Chinese dates, are commonly seen here in the Muslim Quarter.

Market goods

Market goods

streets of the Muslim Quarter

streets of the Muslim Quarter

Every kind of dehydrated fruit imaginable is sold in the Muslim Quarter.

Goodies for sale

Goodies for sale

more goodies

more goodies

dinnertime

dinnertime

Muslim market

Muslim market

Muslim market

Muslim market

a street in the Muslim Quarter

a street in the Muslim Quarter

Lively street

Lively street

Finally, I find a restaurant where I see people sitting at outdoor tables busily tearing bread into tiny pieces into bowls.  I’ve found the famous soup!

I also see these two friends talking amiably.  They look like what I imagine Chinese intellectuals would look like.

two men absorbed

two men absorbed  

I step inside the restaurant where I order the Crumbled Flatbread (unleavened bread) in Mutton Stew, in Chinese, Yangrou Paomo. I’m given a large bowl and two pieces of round, flat unleavened bread.  

the unleavened pita bread

the unleavened pita bread

I observe the people at the tables around me and realize I should break the bread into small pieces so that it can absorb the flavor of the liquid.   The bread is hard and the process is time-consuming.  I see many people are breaking their bread into tiny pieces, but I tear mine up into slightly larger pieces, one, because I don’t want to sit all day tearing the bread, two, because I’m famished, and three, because I’m envisioning the bread pieces becoming something like dumplings, chicken-and-dumpling style, once the soup is poured over them.

the bread torn up in the bowl

the bread torn up in the bowl

After I prepare my bread, I take my bowl to the chef at the back of the restaurant.  He ladles hot soup over the bread, topping it off with pieces of beef (mutton is also popular). Back at the table, a Chinese young man who speaks a bit of English instructs me to add chili paste, caraway and a specially salted sweet garlic to the dish.

the soup with beef poured over the bread

the soup with beef poured over the bread

It is the most delicious thing imaginable!  I end up taking out the meat as it’s a little fatty for my taste, but I enjoy every bite of that bread, which does in fact turn into something resembling a cross between dumplings and späetzle.  I’m in heaven.

I sure wish I didn’t always have to worry about getting stomach problems or gaining weight, because I love food, especially a dish such as this!!

the Drum Tower in daylight

the Drum Tower in daylight

After lunch, I make my way back past the Drum Tower and head back to the hotel to relax a bit before I tackle the ancient city walls.

gardens and Drum Tower

gardens and Drum Tower

Categories: Asia, China, Great Mosque, Muslim Quarter, Shaanxi, Travel, Xi'an, Yangrou Paomo, Yizhen Pavilion | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

first venture into xi’an’s muslim quarter

Sunday, April 19:  After my full day with the Terra Cotta Warriors, the emperor and his concubine, and Chiang Kai-Shek, Chelsea drops Andrew and me back at our respective hotels.  I sit in the lobby for a while checking emails and posting some pictures before heading out to check out a restaurant recommended by Chelsea; it sits on the street between the Bell Tower and the south gate of the city walls.  I find when I go inside the restaurant that it’s outrageously expensive, so I decide to leave and head to the Muslim Quarter, which I’ve heard is lively and has some of the best food in the city.

Looking at the Bell Tower from the south gate of the ancient city wall

Looking at the Bell Tower from the south gate of the ancient city wall

I haven’t yet explored the ancient city walls, but I hope to do so tomorrow.  I’ve heard you can rent a bicycle at the top of the wall and can ride all the way around the perimeter if you like.  I can only hope there’s no rain.

the south gate of Xi'an's ancient city wall

the south gate of Xi’an’s ancient city wall

As I walk north on the main street, I can see the fabulous Bell Tower glowing in its golds, greens and reds.

The Bell Tower at night

The Bell Tower at night

At the Bell Tower, I turn to the west and stroll toward the Drum Tower.  It is also lit up beautifully.

The Drum Tower at night

The Drum Tower at night

Just north of the Drum Tower is the Muslim Quarter, home for centuries to Xi’an’s thirty thousand Hui people, said to be descended from 8th century Arab soldiers (Lonely Planet China).  The quarter covers several blocks inhabited by over 20,000 Muslims. There are about ten mosques in this area, among which the Great Mosque is the most famous and popular (China Travel Guide: Muslim Quarter).  I plan to visit the area in greater depth tomorrow.

venturing into the Muslim Quarter

venturing into the Muslim Quarter

Muslim food and souvenir vendors abound on Beiyuanmen, the flagstoned narrow street just north of the Drum Tower.  The buildings on both sides of the street are modeled on architectural styles of both the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasties (1644-1911). The owners are all Muslims (China Travel Guide: Muslim Quarter).

the busy Muslim Quarter

the busy Muslim Quarter

Lanterns for sale

Lanterns for sale

The Muslims on Beiyuanmen are devout followers of Islam, so they form a tight-knit community, which maintains its own culture and traditions to this day (China Travel Guide: Muslim Quarter).

As you can see below, the street is very crowded this evening.

Xi'an's Muslim Quarter

Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter

I stop in a restaurant for some dinner. I’ve heard of a delicious soup with beef or lamb that’s poured over unleavened bread, but I have a hard time finding it on the menu, even using my cumbersome WayGo app.

the menu in the restaurant

the menu in the restaurant

I finally settle on some very wide spicy noodles that I see at someone else’s table.  I gesture to the waitress that I’d like whatever the man in the center table is having.

a nice little Muslim restaurant

a nice little Muslim restaurant

I didn’t mention that I’ve had an upset stomach most of the day and, even tonight, my stomach is feeling a little queasy; these stomach problems have accompanied me throughout China over the last year.  That doesn’t stop me from eating every last bite of these oily and spicy noodles, which are fabulous.

wide spicy noodles

wide spicy noodles

The crowds are thick in the Muslim Quarter and I’m tired from my long day today, so I walk back to my hotel, once again passing the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower on my way “home.”

The Drum Tower

The Drum Tower

The Drum Tower in Xi'an

The Drum Tower in Xi’an

It’s been a great two days in Xi’an, and I have another whole day tomorrow, Monday.  My flight back to Nanning isn’t until early Tuesday morning. I plan to visit the Bell and Drum Towers, the Muslim Quarter, the city walls, and in the evening, to attend a performance with Mari, the Finnish lady I met today. The performance is to be accompanied by dinner, in which dumplings of all kinds are served. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Bell Tower, China, Drum Tower, Muslim Quarter, Shaanxi, Travel, Xi'an | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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