China’s majority ethnicity is the Han, which makes up 92% of the national population. The Han are named after a prosperous era in Chinese history, the Han Dynasty, and also give their name to the China’s national language, known as ‘Han Yu.’ However, aside from the Han, China is also home to numerous ethnic minorities – 56, according to the Chinese government. One of the largest ethnic minorities is the Hui, whose population stood at 9,816,800 in 2000 and will have certainly risen further since. The Hui people believe in Islam, yet somewhat surprisingly do not have their own language. Aside from Ningxia, a Hui ethnicity autonomous region, it is where I am, in the westerly province of Gansu, where the Hui are most numerous. This being the case, there are plenty of Hui people here in Huixian.
徽县的回民家大半聚在县城东街附近，这个地方布满了由回民经营的餐馆。但更准确地说是面馆，因为每一家都有一样的特色 — 就是牛肉面。这可以说是一种汤面，这种面源于甘肃的省会兰州，人人为此把它叫“兰州拉面”。这个简单的名字很有道理：和中国所有面一样，兰州拉面到处全都是自制的，做饭时，厨师要把面团拉起来做面条。无论面的名字怎么样，回民的牛肉面馆很容易辨认：猪肉理所当然在这里买不到。既然大部分非回民饭馆的各种菜里面都是“大”肉，这就是一个尖锐的对比。听说，回民的美食没有新疆的维吾尔族的美食那么多，餐馆里面的选择似乎限于牛肉面与羊肉面片。但是，还值得一提的是烧烤。在中国，燃煤仍旧普遍通用，因此开个小烧烤摊看得出相当容易 — 在学校靠近的商场处处都有。这些小摊子证明，各种美食都能做成肉串，除了英国人爱吃的牛肉块，毛肚口条等异国的佳肴还很多。
The Hui people of Huixian mostly live near the East Street, and so the area is dotted with Hui restaurants; or more accurately noodle bars, since each has the same one speciality: beef noodles. You could probably call these a type of soup noodles. They originate from Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, and are also known as ‘Lanzhou pulled noodles.’ This simple name makes a lot of sense: as is the case with all of China’s many noodle dishes, Lanzhou pulled noodles are always homemade. When making them, the chef has to pull the dough out to make it into noodles. Regardless of names, Hui ethnicity beef noodle restaurants are easy to spot. It goes without saying that you can’t get pork in these places, but this nonetheless means a lot when ‘big meat’, as it is known, is the centre of most dishes found elsewhere. From what I’ve heard, Hui restaurants can hardly boast as wide a selection of dishes as those of the Uighur people of Xinjiang in China’s northwest, with the menu limited, it seems, to beef noodles and lamb pian [square noodles]. That said, there is something else which must be mentioned: barbeque. In China coal is still widely used, and so it seems that opening a little barbeque stand is quite easy – in the market next to school these are everywhere. These little stands prove that all sorts of foods can be made into kebabs. Aside from cuts of meat that are well-loved in Britain, also available are various foods which are popular abroad such as tripe and tongue.
Outside the market, walking along the East Street, you are surrounded by Hui culture. Along the street are a good few shops selling Muslim products. One day I was taking a walk through the east of town when suddenly I saw a great sparkling brand new mosque. According to local passers-by, the mosque had been completed just two months ago. What’s more, my fellow teachers say that this isn’t the only mosque in this relatively poor place. I’d like to get in touch with the Hui people there to learn more about their culture, but I’m a bit reluctant to do so. The teachers happily take us out to visit Daoist and Buddhist temples, which in their mind are sites of local interest, but when it comes to Islam, this is seen more as a religion specific to the ethnic minorities. There is also a church, mention of which provoked warning from the teachers. ‘Don’t think about going there – the teaching there has come under suspicion from the police.’