The Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, or simply Ningxia, is one of China’s five autonomous regions. Located in north-central China, Ningxia itself is split into five prefectural cities: Shízuǐshān (石嘴山), Yínchuān (银川), Wúzhōng (吴忠), Zhōngwèi (中卫), and Gùyuán (固原). Each of these areas offers something different in the way of food, people, tourism, and geography. From sandy deserts to rugged mountains to lush, green forests, Ningxia has a little of everything, and, as one might see on an airport billboard or two, some might call it “An Oasis on the Hinterland.” (Though perhaps a better translation would be “An Oasis on the Chinese Frontier.”)
One of the first aspects of Ningxia a newcomer might notice is its abundant sunshine and lack of significant pollution. In contrast to many other areas, Ningxia’s skies are visibly blue for most of the year, and the region is also fairly quiet, a fantastic place to rest from the busyness of China’s more heavily populated cities and regions.
Though each of Ningxia’s prefectural cities is unique in what it has to offer, all are united in that they are characterized by Hui culture. The Hui Chinese are a primarily Muslim minority group found in pockets throughout China and even the world, but they are most concentrated in northwestern China. The Hui people make up about 34% percent of Ningxia’s total population, while the Han Chinese account for about 65% and other minorities the remaining 1%. The presence of Hui culture in Ningxia can’t be missed; from the roads of the smallest villages to the streets of its largest cities, the region’s Hui influences are apparent. Everywhere you’ll find mosques big and small, an abundance of清真 (Qīngzhēn, or Muslim) restaurants offering delicious homemade delicacies, and men and women wearing traditional Hui caps and headscarves. The people themselves are also especially hospitable and kind, offering food and friendly conversation to friends and strangers alike.
Population Distribution by Ethnicity
- Han 63.19% 63.19%
- Hui 36.05% 36.05%
- Other Minorities .76% .76%
As is true for every province and region in China, food plays a crucial role in the lives of 宁夏人 (Níngxià rén, or Ningxia people), not simply as nourishment but as a way of showing hospitality and bringing people together. Ningxia certainly isn’t lacking when it comes to edible specialties. Hand-pulled noodle shops are everywhere, mutton is served in various forms (soups, dishes, roasted) at most every Muslim restaurant, dried goji berry shops speckle the streets, and eight treasure tea is an option at most restaurants.
In addition to food, Ningxia also specializes in Helan stone and sheep skin products. The former, Helan stone, is a type of rock found in Ningxia’s贺兰山 (Hèlánshān, or the Helan mountain range); it has a dark, marbled appearance, and some Ningxia people specialize in making beautiful handmade Helan stone carvings. These carvings range from tiny charms to tea sets to inkstones, and they can also be custom ordered.
Because mutton is such a prominent part of Ningxia people’s diets, sheep skin isn’t hard to come by. It’s used by some to make unique and often custom made prints, from maps to Chinese phrases, and sheep skin fur is also used to make warm, soft coats and rugs.