A Bit of the Middle East in Guangzhou: Where East Meets West

A Bit of the Middle East in Guangzhou: Where East Meets West

Walking down a busy street in Guangzhou, you can easily tell that there is a lot of rich history here, as a core location where East has met West for a long time. Judging by the amounts of mosques, Middle Eastern restaurants and stores, it is easy to tell that Middle Eastern culture and religion has been infused in Guangzhou’s history. According to some sources, Persians and Arabs have been welcomed by local Cantonese as far back as the 10th century, or perhaps even earlier, as traders in Guangzhou. Here are some places in Guangzhou where a Middle Eastern vibe can still be felt, or where to go to seek it.

Turkish Food
Photo: Jessica Spengler

1) Markets
Middle Easterners represent a fairly large percentage of the wide variety of foreigners in Xiaobei District, where the smooth guttural sounds of Arabic are often heard on the streets. Take a stroll at any time of day down into Xiaobei Market (take Huanshi Zhong Lu to Tongxin Lu) and you will feel like you have just stepped onto the streets of an old Middle Eastern bazaar. Slaughtered lambs hanging in the heat, nuts and dried fruit, your usual knick-knacks, they can all be found here. If you're “lucky”, you might even get to see them slaughter the lamb right there on the street. Street vendors sell, among other things, northwestern Chinese delicacies such as shaokao (lamb kebabs) and naan.

2) Groceries
Plenty of shops in Guangzhou sell halal and imported products. Look for Arabic writing in the windows. The shops are usually run by Chinese from the Hui ethnic minority, but don't be surprised if they are able to serve clients in Arabic.

In the grocery stores you can find anything from labneh (a lebanese cream-based product similar in taste and texture to authentic Greek yogurt), locally produced yogurt, za'atar (a spice mix delicious on bread and meats), Arabic-style pita bread "made under middle-eastern supervision to ensure quality", French honey and cheeses to both locally grown and imported nuts. Most of these shops are also halal butchers, offering up good quality meats (all but pork, of course!). Many shops like these can be found in Chen Clan Academy District or Xiaobei.

Muslim SupermarketView In Map
Add: 306 Huanshi Zhonglu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Tel: 135 7037 4294
Opening Hours: 10:00 - 22:00
Getting There: Take Line 5 and get off at Xiaobei Station (小北站), exit B (between Kungfu and Arab Mobile).

3) Restaurants

By now, you will have picked up on the appetizing scent of grilled meat wafting through the air. Next door to the Muslim Supermarket, find the Turkish restaurant Bosphorous with (arguably) the best grilled meat in town. Bosphorous has two other locations in Guangzhou: one in Taojin and the other Zhujiang Newtown. The food is great at all locations. Decor is best in Taojin and Zhujiang Newtown, like most other hang outs there, is where to go to be seen. Dishes are in the 50-70 RMB range. Leave room for their chocolate pudding if you can. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s worth coming back for.

For another Middle Eastern dining option, try the revered Sultan, which is located in the Baiyun Hotel and arguably serves some of the best Turkish food in town in a relaxed and beautiful setting.

Bosphorous (Xiaobei location)View In Map
Add: Zhaoqing Mansion, 304 Huanshi Zhonglu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Website: http://www.bosphorus-china.com/index.php
Tel: 020 8356 3578
Opening Hours: 08:00-24:00

SultanView In Map
Add: Sultan, Baiyun Hotel, 367 Huanshi Donglu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Website: http://www.sultanrestaurant.com.cn
Tel: 020 8349 4170
Opening Hours: 10:00-01:00

4) Hookah Hangouts

Another popular hangout for many foreigners include the many restaurants offering hookah smoking. Hookah is a vase-shaped vessel used to vaporize flavoured tobacco. The vapor passes through water before circulating into attached pipes from which the user inhales the smoke or vapor.

Several restaurants and cafés in Guangzhou cater to this popular trend. Although some cafés have in recent times been closed down, it does not appear to be a problem with the local authorities (or the nicotine-addicted population of Guangzhou), as locations abound across the city. Sketch Cafe is a great option if you want to try it out.

Sketch CafeView In Map
Add: 1 Jiansheliu Lu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Tel: 134 3560 0055 or 020 8370 3787

5) Mosques
The Huaisheng Mosque remains in Guangzhou, which according to some would be one of the oldest mosques in the world as it was completed over 1300 years ago. Its 36-meter minaret would have served as a beacon for boats on the Pearl River. The mosque is also called the Light Tower Mosque (due to its use as a lighthouse), and this six-building complex is an interesting visit whether for a religious, or a historical and architectural perspective.

For another mosque, or if you can’t get enough, try visiting Guangzhou Xianxian Mosque, the largest place of worship for the Muslim population of Guangzhou today. This mosque covers about 1077 square meters, and was built during the Tang dynasty.

Huaisheng MosqueView In Map
Add: 56 Guangta Lu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Opening Hours: 08:30-17:00
Getting There: Take Line 1 to Ximenkou Station (西门口站), and take exit B.

Xianxian MosqueView In Map
Add: 901 Jiefang Beilu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Opening Hours: 08:30-16:30
Getting There: Take Line 2 or 5 to Guangzhou Train Station (广州火车站).

It's little wonder that such a diverse city continues to be an important centre for trade, with not only the Middle East, but far beyond. Diverse as it is, Guangzhou may still present unique challenges for any foreigner, Middle Eastern or not, like many multicultural metropolises around the world. However, centuries of trade with the Middle East mean that there are some great restaurants, grocery stores, religious centers and a lot of culture left to explore.

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Keywords: Mosques Halal Food Markets Middle East in Guangzhou


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