Ara­bian Nights A night in Yiwu City

That's China - - 城市漫步 -

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!

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