Popular Arab Food in China
By: Yidan Fan / Arab America Contributing Writer
China has a long history of commercial trade and cultural exchanges with Arab countries. As early as over 2,000 years ago, during the Western Han Dynasty, Zhang Qian was ordered to go to the Western Regions twice in 139 BC and 119 BC to open up China’s ancient business road to Central and West Asia, which was known as the famous “Silk Road” on land. There was also a route on the sea called the “Road of Spices”, which was explored after the “Silk Road”. Through this route, Arab merchant ships could sail directly to China. The voyage started from the Persian Gulf, passed through the Arabian Sea to India, and then went from the Marbala coast of India, went across the Bay of Bengal and the Strait of Malacca, passed through the Vietnam and China Sea, and finally arrived in Guangzhou, China.
The “Silk Road” and the “Road of Spices” greatly promoted commercial trade and cultural exchanges between China and Arab countries. In addition to the various spices and Arab culture, Arab merchants also brought unique Arab cuisine to China.
This article will introduce you to the evolution of Arab cuisine in China and the well-known Arab restaurants in China.
The Evolution of Arab Cuisine
Halal cuisine is a kind of cuisine which evolved from Arab cuisine in China. The Halal restaurants are mainly owned and operated by Arabs and the Hui people, who gradually formed after Arab merchants settled down in China. Halal cuisine maintains many traditions and unique features of Arab food culture. The ingredients are mostly lamb, onions, carrots, pepper noodles, almond powder, salt, etc., and soy sauce is not preferred in Halal cuisine cooking. The taste is characterized by spicy, sweet, salty and sour. The cooking methods of Halal cuisine are mainly roasted, fried and boiled.
The most prominent feature of Halal dishes is that they have strict dietary taboos and their eating habits are derived from Islamic rules. Halal dishes require the food to be clean, tasty, and nutritious. Halal dishes should not be cooked with pigs, dogs, donkeys, scaleless fish, and all self-dead animals. Compared with the cuisine of the Arab Muslim countries in West Asia and North Africa, the flavor of Chinese halal cuisine has evolved differently, but the dietary taboos remain exactly the same.
The Well-known Arab Restaurants in China
Arab cuisine is characterized by its original flavor. The ingredients of Arab cuisine are mainly lamb and the taste is tender and delicious. There are many different kinds of dish in Arab cuisine, such as appetizers, soups, salads, barbecues, desserts and so on. The tastes of Arab cuisine are close to Chinese tastes in general, so it becomes popular all over China.
The Sanlitun embassy area the largest embassy area in Beijing, where embassies from many countries in the world gather here. Alameen Arab Restaurant, which has been rated as the most authentic Arab restaurant in Beijing by many Chinese citizens, is located in this area. Grilled meat and mutton-stuffed Arabic pie are the specialty dishes of this restaurant, which are deeply loved by Beijing people.
As a well-known international metropolis in China, Shanghai brings together delicious food from all over the world. One Thousand and One Nights Restaurant, which is located on Hengshan Road in Xuhui District, is the first authentic Arabic restaurant in Shanghai. The chef, Ahmed, in the One Thousand One Nights restaurant was hired from the famous Alibaba restaurant in Syria. He manages every dish in person, from selecting ingredients, preparing ingredients cooking dishes, to ensure that every dish maintains the authentic Arab flavor. The restaurant is decorated in accordance with the traditional Arab style, and dancers are hired to perform Arab dances in the restaurant. Therefore, customers can have the dual enjoyment of vision and taste and experience the unique Arab culture.
Due to the development of Yiwu’s export-oriented economy, there are currently more than 15,000 foreign businessmen from more than 100 countries living in Yiwu. They also bring food from all over the world to Yiwu, including Arab cuisine.
Now, there are many Arab restaurants all over the streets in Yiwu, especially in Chouzhou North Road and the business district. But the most famous one is the Pakistani Shahid’s restaurant. Shahid has experience studying abroad in China and speaks fluent Mandarin. In 1999, he found the business opportunities of transnational trade and came to Yiwu to do business. He was one of the first group of Arab businessmen to do business in Yiwu.
Shahid opened an Arab restaurant only to satisfy his own tastes at the beginning. At that time, there were almost no Arab restaurants in Yiwu. In order to feel the taste of his hometown, Shahid bought authentic Arab seasonings from abroad and used local ingredients to cook. In the coming years, as more and more Arabs came to Yiwu, Shahid’s restaurant business became better and better, and its reputation spread. Arabs in Yiwu regard Shahid’s restaurant as their own dining room, and it is also popular among local Chinese people.
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