Samantha Tan Chiew Ting, Bernama’s correspondent in Beijing shares her take on China’s capital city.
BEIJING: Besides transportation, many would worry when it comes to language and food while traveling in foreign lands.
I believe some of my Malay-Muslim friends will probably hesitate to visit China as they may think halal food is difficult to find there.
However, it is not the case. I myself was surprised with the Muslim population and their culture in the Chinese capital city.
I recently had the chance to explore the Muslim side of the city with a group of Malaysian journalists.
They were in Beijing for three days to cover the China-ASEAN (10+1) Defence Ministers Unofficial Meeting and the sixth Xiangshan Forum where Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein attended the event.
Hence, I had to look for halal food as two of them in the group were Muslims.
Honestly, I had no idea about Muslim restaurants at first because I never bothered to find any halal outlets as I myself am a vegetarian.
NO SHORTAGE OF HALAL SHOPS
I decided to bring them around to tourists’ attraction spots in Yonghegong Lama Temple, Gulou (Drum Tower) and Houhai, a lake behind the forbidden city for sightseeing. There, we were greeted by a mix of Arabic and Chinese architecture and traditions.
We found a number of restaurants operated by Muslims and I was told there could be easily over 2,000 halal food outlets right from street vendors to mid-to-high range restaurants in Beijing.
These Muslim restaurants do not serve pork and alcohol, and comply with other halal requirements as well. Furthermore, it was easy to spot their shops as most of them are decorated with Islamic motifs or rugs with pictures or Arabic writing.
Among the food offered are Lamian, which are hand-made noodles served in beef/mutton-flavored soup or stir-fried with tomato-based sauce, beef noodle soup, beef skewers, roasted duck, steamed sesame buns and many more.
Besides food, there are also many Islamic attractions to visit namely the famous Niujie Mosque (Cow Street Mosque), an ancient mosque that is thought to be among the oldest and the most important mosque in China.
MUSLIMS ARE WELCOMED
Other famous mosques were Dongsi Mosque, originally built during the Yuan Dynasty and the headquarters of the Islamic Association of Beijing, as well as Huashi Mosque that serves as the main congregation place for the Muslims in Beijing.
Mosques first appeared in China almost 1,400 years ago and now there are more than 20,000 mosques across the country with the highest concentration of mosques in western Gansu, Xinjiang, Yunnan and Qinghai provinces.
To woo more visitors from outside, the country is constantly improving its tourism facilities and services.
China is expected to emerge as the world’s fourth largest tourist destination by 2020. Hence, many tour packages are also being offered to attract the Muslim travelers.
Language is no barrier though Mandarin is widely-spoken and not English. Travel guides and brochures for attractions in Beijing can easily be understood.
To my Malay-Muslim friends who wish to visit Beijing, put your mind to rest about the halal food. You are most welcomed to visit the Great Wall Nation.