Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gourmand’s paradise

A tally of what I ended up eating on the streets of Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter yesterday:
• Deep-fried round bread with cumin- and paprika-dominated seasoning spread inside
• Deep-fried quesadilla-like flatbread with beef and green-onion filling (tasted like delicious greasy dumplings)
• Dried fruit – kiwi, pineapple, something like an orange plum, something like a yellow cherry
• Peanut toffee/fudge relative, sort of like a softer version of what’s in a Butterfinger
• Sugared walnuts
• Peanut brittle
• Sesame-covered mochi with blackbean paste and honey (I thought this was Korean, apparently it is also a Chinese Muslim favorite)

I did not buy a cow’s heart or liver, although they seemed quite popular with the locals (they are also ENORMOUS, I will post pics later). The Muslim Quarter is officially my favorite place in Xi’an and we are going back today to eat more.

There are, of course, other great things about the area besides the food. We visited the Great Mosque, which was really incredible. It pretty much looks like a Chinese temple except that in addition to the Chinese scripts there is also Islamic script in the stonework/woodwork. Also the roof tiles are turquoise where the color remains, which is incredibly refreshing and beautiful. What was sad, though, is how little care this site seems to be given. In one building there were a handful of artifacts that looked legitimately important and ancient just lying around, only a few of them with signage.

We ended the day with a visit to the Folk House, a restored Qing bureaucrat’s home at 144 Beiyuanmen St. The house and the pieces in it date to 400-300 years ago. This was really much better than it can ever sound in the retelling. The ‘house’ is really a collection of many little houses and hallways and gardens and courtyards, only a part of which are open. Some of the interesting things we saw:
• The unmarried daughter’s house, with the original bed (like a large ornate cabinet without doors) and replica shoes that were 3 inches long, the norm for bound feet. Interesting fact – women’s feet were bound not for visual reasons, but so they would not be able to go anywhere.
• The men’s reception room (its round columns signified the man’s domain, which is interesting since it also signifies the sky and heaven).
• The women’s reception room (its square columns signified the women’s domain, as well as the earth).
• Incredibly short second-storeys and incredibly skinny outdoor hallways connecting houses.
• Wooden pillows in the master bed house (these are actually small chests and housed jewels and money so they could guard them while they slept).

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