Beiyuanmen Muslim Market is a must-see sight when in Xian, China. // © 2014 Shane Nelson
Feature image (above): Street snacks abound in the night market, from meat skewers and dumplings to soups characteristic of the region. // © 2014 Shane Nelson
Xian visitors on the hunt for inexpensive Chinese street food and souvenirs will definitely want to set aside at least one night to meander through the city’s pulsing Muslim market.
Just north of Xian’s photogenic Drum Tower, it’s tough to miss the bustling crowds, aroma-filled smoke, fluorescent lights and neon signs of Beiyuanmen Muslim Market. The area is brimming with vendors hawking everything from walnuts to miniaturized terracotta warriors. Here, visitors can sample roasted sheep and chicken on skewers, an assortment of pork and beef dumplings, endless noodle dishes, spicy potatoes and a tasty unleavened bread-and-lamb soup specialty.
Made up of several crisscrossing streets, Beiyuanmen Muslim Market also stars a lively cast of characters, often outfitted in traditional Islamic dress, that make for first-rate photo opportunities and offer a sharp contrast to the more traditional Han Chinese culture found elsewhere in Xian.
The neighborhood’s Muslim population traces its Xian history back to the city’s early Silk Road days. Nearly 2,100 years ago, the city was the starting point for a collection of routes on which merchants carried silk, spices, precious metals and an array of goods through China and across India and the Persian Empire to the Mediterranean.
The marketplace is a terrific place to work on your bargaining skills: During my recent visit with G Adventures, I landed a shin-high replica of a terracotta warrior for about $1.50. The marketplace is an excellent spot to pick up gifts for friends and family and showing up hungry is a good idea. It has long been a favorite place for locals to fill up on all sorts of distinctive and inexpensive eats. Visitors often make a multi-stop meal of the foods offered, due to an array of steamy, often fiery, vendor grills and open ovens.
Travelers should also be sure to check out the beautifully lit Drum Tower of Xian just a few blocks south of the market, along with Xian’s centuries-old city wall. Both are particularly photogenic at dusk as the raucous city’s lights twinkle to life in anticipation of night.