Day 39: Rainy day and fast food in Xi’an

Last day in Xi’an and the heavens opened.

I’m rarely in the mood for going to look at pottery exhibits in museums so it was going to be a fairly limited day.

Terracotta WARRIORS are hardly in the same league as plates, before anybody argues with the previous statement.

There are tight limits to my enthusiasm for crockery. If there is food on it, that I am going to eat, then that is also a whole different matter.

The authors of my guidebooks, by contrast, are very keen on ceramics.

I have lost count of the number of times where the advice on various museums says “skip x (propaganda posters, the history of the revolution, the display of costumes etc) and head to the fascinating displays of pottery fragments”.

Not even whole pieces of crockery. Fragments.

Maybe, I should be more interested in pottery?


I headed instead for the Muslim Quarter Street Markets.

Xi’an was the starting point of the ancient Silk Road over a thousand years ago.

Merchants from the Middle East came to Xi’an for business and many settled down on what is now called Muslim Street.

The people who live there are descended from the original settlers.

The main street, where most of the restaurants are feels like the touristy part while the business of day to day life goes on in the narrower side streets that lead off it.

The food available is amazing, spicier than the food available in Beijing, though vegetarians would struggle. A bowl of bean curd curry I bought was filled with chicken.

There are plenty of fast food options, not all of them as enticing (in my opinion) as others, but this is where the Chinese traditional fast food is.

In Beijing and Xi’an, there are Western fast food outlets everywhere. KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway, McDonalds (of course) line the streets alongside very familiar coffee chains: Starbucks and Costa Coffee for two.

A friend… stand by, Public Health geekery, again… asked me if I had noticed a lot of overweight children when I arrived in Beijing.

She had seen a lot of chubby kids being pushed around in buggies, scooters or carried, basically anything that meant they didn’t have to walk, when she was here nine years ago.

What struck me was that I hadn’t. My main observation was how slim the children and teenagers were, and how much running around they were doing.

I started looking around more and, at this point, I would say less than 10% of people seem overweight or obese here.

Of course, I’m looking at this with a European eye – used to seeing bigger body-types.

The most recent statistics I can find indicate that 10.8% of men and 14.9% of women are overweight/obese. For young people, those figures are 23% of boys and 14% of girls under 20 are overweight or obese. 

This study was published in 2016 and the data covered went up to 2014.

A researcher looking at China’s plan for addressing this issue, Healthy China 2030 found that Coca-Cola had been heavily influential in shaping the strategy – an approach that looks only at physical activity rather than the calories and sugar content of food.

Has China found a way to turn around these figures?

Healthy China 2030 was published in 2016. Could it have made an impact in three years? Have there been other interventions to address weight?

Based on the prevalence of the Western fast food premises, I’m not sure.

The queues at the local Chinese fast food stalls and shops – where the skewers of mutton are 30-40cm long – are huge, in length. And the skewers are the laden with the same, if not more, calorie content of a burger.

I was talking with someone whose friend has been living and working here for the last year. What she has noticed, certainly in the workplace, is an absence of snacking between meals.

The staff canteen is open for meals and not in between. There is no comfort-eating stash of chocolate or crisps to be found anywhere.

Are the Chinese using fast food as a meal rather than a snack? Are their eating habits different to those in the West?

Readers will be delighted to know that the forecast for Shanghai tomorrow is sunny. I’ll be out and about exploring, rather than geeking indoors over Public Health issues.

*Featured Photo: The main market street in the Muslim Quarter. You know what Starbucks looks like.

Categories: China, Food, Public Health, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , ,

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