Arabian Nights A night in Yiwu City
Leaving Fotang behind for the day and driving back to downtownYiwu, one couldn’t help but feel that a spell of some description had been broken, and that somewhere along the road we’d crossed through a kind of Bermuda Triangle, a paranormal oddity that whisked us from the past to the present day in a flash of barley visible lightening. In any case, as we left our hotel for dinner, our minds turned to less cosmic matter of dinner, and to the promise of Middle-Eastern cuisine - something thatYiwu is famed for due to the large number of Arabic and Persian businessmen that visit each year.
Like in most Chinese cities, night time means food time, and quicker than you can say, “do you have any cold beers?” the streets around Binwang are turned into open-air kitchens as the scent of frying noodles and sizzling lamb fills the air. Yiwu being Yiwu however, means that you’re as likely to see a plate of hummus as you are a bowl of wantons, and chances are the vendor who serves you will be a follower of Allah rather than Buddha.Yes, nighttime in Yiwu is filled with shisha pipe smoke and Arabic music as tables and chairs from cafes with exotic names like Aleppo Cafe spill out on the street and are quickly filled by hungry punters.The people out dining and drinking super sugary mint tea here are largely foreign nationals in town for business, individuals who have been drawn by the city’s infamous small goods market, and decades of such business has led to what is essentially a little Arabia that is, incidentally, more than a little delicious.
Shish kebabs, mountains of Pitta bread, olives, Greek yoghurt - the food here is exceptional and, it felt like a real luxury to be surrounded by such an abundance of authentic, honest-to-goodness middle-eastern food - the likes of which you’ll struggle to find anywhere else along the eastern seaboard. Many people from China’s largely Islamic North-western reaches also find themselves inYiwu too, a fact that only serves to heighten the unique feel of the place. In some ways, the dominancy of Zhejiang’s Han Chinese population appears to be momentarily shattered, which feels both unusual and exotic.
Aside from the food, the Binwang Commercial Street area also boasts an absolutely huge night-market, a tight, almost claustrophobic open-air bazaar full of all the weird, wonderful and wacky (and tacky) products any experienced Asian shopper has come to know and love.Watches, bags, electronic items, mobile accessories and gadgets and gizmos of all shapes and sizes are available here - if you’ve got any of your hard earned RMB leftover from dinner that is!