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Feasts for the Eyes, and the Palate in Xian, China-Part 1

On the “Muslim Street” in the Chinese city of Xian stands a bronze tableau in honor of street food. There, on a crowded lane packed with stalls selling Islamic-Chinese cuisine — lamb dumplings, mutton soup, pancakes and mung bean noodles — tourists can pose with statues of a soup seller and his customers. It’s a photo opportunity that brings together Xian’s two most famous tourist drawing cards: life-size human replicas and superb dumplings.

中国西安的清真美食街上有个向街边小吃致敬的铜制雕塑群。这条拥挤的小巷挤满了摊点,卖的是清真中国美食——羊肉饺子,羊肉汤,煎饼和绿豆面——游客们可以和这个雕塑群合影:它包括一个卖羊肉汤的摊主和顾客们。拍下的照片结合了西安最吸引游客的两件事:真人大小的人体模型和超级好吃的饺子。

清真美食街上的饺子。Dumplings float in bowl of broth at a spot on the Muslim Street..jpg

Each year, thousands of tour groups swing through Xian in the central part of the country, one of the four ancient capitals of China. The main draw is the site housing 8,000 buried terra-cotta warriors, the life-size standing figures that Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of unified China, ordered to be created and buried to guard his tomb and fight his battles in the imperial afterlife. It’s perfectly possible to zoom in and out of Xian, stopping only to see the warriors in their open-air museum, and be served the characteristic “dumpling feast”: a high-end celebration of local dumpling culture that can include dozens of morsels, savory and sweet; fried, steamed and boiled; some shaped like leaves, others like flowers and frogs.

每年有成千上万个旅游团到西安游玩。西安位于中国中部,是四大古都之一。最吸引人的是那8000个曾埋藏于地下的兵马俑,这些真人大小的站立人体模型是统一中国的第一个皇帝秦始皇下令制作和掩埋的,为的是在他死后保卫他的陵墓,继续为他作战。走遍整个西安,你完全可以只在那个露天博物馆驻足,观看兵马俑,品尝特色饺子宴:它是对当地饺子文化的高端展示,有几十种或甜或咸的馅料,或炸或蒸或煮;有的像树叶,有的像鲜花或青蛙。

But Xian, with its millenniums of Chinese history on display, is a remarkable place to spend more than a couple of days. Sights range from two splendid imperial tombs to the syncretic architecture of Chinese Islam at its finest, to an elegant Buddhist pagoda, all in the modern Chinese urban context of a city of about eight million people, replete with aggressive traffic, plentiful construction and bustling luxury shopping malls.

但是西安拥有中国几千年历史的遗迹,是个值得多待几天的了不起的地方。景点包括两个辉煌的皇陵,中国伊斯兰教最杰出的融合建筑,以及一个优雅的佛塔。它们都位于这座现代中国城市里,它有约800万人口,交通繁忙,建筑物众多,购物中心热闹、奢华。

One cold winter evening, my husband, our teenage son and I took the overnight “soft sleeper” train from Beijing to Xian. Our aim was a trip that would build on the warriors — and the dumplings — and let us explore the past and present of the city. The tiny train compartment was cozy, with comforters and pillows, and grassy cups of hot tea brought to us in the morning, shortly before the train pulled into the Xian station right up against the largely intact 14th-century city walls.

一个寒冷的冬夜,我和丈夫以及十几岁的儿子搭乘夕发朝至的“软卧”火车,从北京前往西安。我们目的是围绕兵马俑和饺子探索这座城市的过去和现在。小小的火车隔间很舒适,有被子和枕头,早上乘务员送来几杯热茶,不久之后,火车驶入西安火车站,它就在巨大的保存完好的14世纪城墙边上。

清真美食街上的一个餐馆的工作人员站在餐馆外。Workers stand outside a restaurant in the Muslim Street area..jpg

We stayed at a residence hotel with small self-contained apartments in the historic center, near the Muslim quarter, and close to two famous 14th-century towers, the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower, both of which were completely covered in scaffolding. We quickly discovered that though we were just a short walk away from the famous delicacies of the Muslim Street (its formal name is Beiyuanmen Street), we were even closer to the rich possibilities of another small food street across from the hotel, which we quickly came to regard as our own. This street, completely lacking in historic character — or statues — had street vendors with steamers full of dumplings stuffed with glutinous rice, a man who hacked huge grilled scallion-flecked flatbreads into squares, and barbecuers with small grills on which marinated shredded pork and chicken sizzled.

我们住在一个民居式酒店里,酒店里有很多设备齐全的小套间。旅馆位于旧城中心,离穆斯林聚居区和两个著名的14世纪塔楼——钟楼和鼓楼——不远,这两个塔楼被脚手架完全遮住了。我们很快发现,虽然走一小会儿就能到达著名的穆斯林美食街(它正式的名字是北院门街),但是我们离酒店对面的另一个小美食街的丰富佳肴更近,我们很快把它当做我们自己的食堂。这条街上完全没有历史人物或雕塑,只有街边小贩:有的摊贩的蒸笼里装满塞着糯米的饺子;有的摊贩把巨大的烤葱花饼切成方块;有的摊贩有小小的烤肉架,腌过的猪肉块和鸡肉块在烤肉架上滋滋作响。

On the Muslim Street, we sampled Islamic Chinese food, which completely eschews pork and relies instead on lamb and mutton, as well as glutinous noodles made from mung bean flour. Women made scallion-filled pancakes to order on griddles (you could also get your pancake filled with yellow chives or with spiced ground meat). We stepped into a storefront to eat our first bowls of paomo, perhaps the most characteristic Xian dish of all: flatbread crumbled into a rich mutton soup.

在清真美食街上,我们品尝了中国的伊斯兰食物,这种食物完全不用猪肉,用的是羊羔肉和羊肉,以及用绿豆粉做成的粘质面条。有些女人做葱油饼,你就在煎锅旁边点餐(你还可以要求在饼里加入韭黄或五香碎肉)。我们走进一个店面,吃了第一碗泡馍。泡馍也许是最具西安特色的食物:它是把掰碎的饼泡在油腻的羊肉汤里。

西安清真大寺,一个人给大殿外的地板洒水。Elsewhere in the city, a man waters the floor outside the main prayer hall of the Great Mosque of Xian..jpg

清真大寺里的碑文。Inscriptions in the Great Mosque..jpg

Xian, the eastern end of the old Silk Road, has long been important for Muslims and Buddhists, emperors and traders. The Great Mosque of Xian was founded in 742, not so long after Islam took root in China. The mosque, rebuilt over the centuries, is notable for its Chinese architecture — a minaret that strongly resembles a pagoda, and pavilions decorated in bright ornamental ceramics. As we explored, afternoon prayers let out, and the courtyard filled with men in skullcaps.

西安是古丝绸之路东端的终点,对穆斯林和佛教徒、皇帝和商人来说,它一直很重要。西安清真大寺建于742年,那时伊斯兰教在中国扎根不久。这座清真寺数百年来多次重建,以其中国建筑风格闻名——它的尖塔很像东方的宝塔,凉亭用明亮、华丽的瓷片装饰。我们去拜访的时候,下午的祷告刚散场,院子里满是戴着无边便帽的男人。

2016-06-24

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