Once one of the main points of contact for many people seeking entry into China - when it was once known to the outside world as Amoy - Xiamen was one of the country’s first cities to open to outsiders. Naturally, this has made the city and its various islands a bustling hub for commerce and travel, with a number of its old streets and neighbourhoods being well-known for amazing artisan crafts - from lacquer carving to pearls. Arguably, there are few finer examples of this than the island of Gulangyu, a car-free island that is liberally dotted with 19th-century colonial architecture as well as a healthy market vibe. Indeed, there’s a reason why this 2 sq km island (494 acres) - which can be reached from Xiamen by ferry in a matter of minutes - is a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. So, where will you visit, and what will you buy during your trip to this fascinating city? Read on for tips on what to buy in Xiamen, China.
1. Vegetarian cake of the South Putuo Temple
One of Xiamen’s most famous sites, the South Putuo Temple will likely already be on your itinerary if you plan on visiting this Chinese island. But, if this famous Buddhist temple’s rich history, fascinating ceremonies and extensive garden grounds weren’t already enough to place it on your radar, then its popular vegetarian cakes will hopefully tip the balance. Popular not just among visitors, but also among the local population, the temple’s vegetarian treats are a famed culinary highlight of any visit.
Address: Siming South Road 515, Nan PuTuo Temple PuZhao Building, XIamen, China.
Website: South Putuo Temple
Opening hours: 7am to 6pm daily (temple hours)
2. Lacquer thread carvings
China’s historic lacquer techniques - which date back at least 3000 years - are responsible for producing some truly breathtaking objects and artworks. And this is especially true of carved lacquer-ware, which was first developed around the 12th century. This incredibly time-consuming process, which sees skilled crafters carve intricate designs into a very thick layer of lacquer, has ensured that objects produced in this style are a true luxury item. What’s more, while it is associated with the entire Fujian Province, Xiamen is regarded as a particularly fertile hotspot. So if you’re looking to splash the cash for some truly stunning lacquer-ware pieces, you’ll likely want to check out this beautiful form of art. One particular popular spot to go hunting for it is the craft shops of Gulangyu island - a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Address:Gulangyu Island, Siming District, Xiamen 361005, China
Opening hours: Ferry times vary. Check in advance of travel
3. Xiamen bead embroidery
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
If you’re looking to pick up some truly spectacular clothing or tapestries then you’ll definitely want to check out some of Xiamen’s beautiful bead embroidery. Xiamen is particularly well known for this traditional skill, which sees artisans and skilled crafters use silken threads to link tiny beads together. It may sound simple but a master of the art can produce some truly striking embellishments for clothing. It is also particularly popular when used on the likes of purses and slippers - making for a unique souvenir of your Xiamen visit, either for yourself or a fashion-conscious loved one. Gulangyu Island is said to be home to a number of shops selling these wares while some of the big shopping malls - such as Wanda Plaza - are home to a mix of clothing shops that include local styles.
Address: XianYue Lu 4666Hao Jin HuBian ShuiKu, Xiamen
Website: Wanda Plaza
4. Pearl jewellery
These precious natural wonders are particularly prized in China, and they have played a prominent role within the nation’s culture going back into antiquity. Today it is the world’s biggest producer of cultured pearls - so if you’re looking to pick up some ornate pearl jewellery on your travels then you’ve come to the right place. The historic thoroughfare of Zhongshan Road is chock full of shops along its one kilometre (0.6 miles) length, including some selling pearls that are still fresh from the polishing process. It is also home to a number of other craft stores, so if you have no joy sourcing beaded clothing or lacquer engraving elsewhere, it might be worth a look too.
Address: Siming District, Xiamen 361001, China
5. Xiamen pies
One of the most popular food specialities within the province is the Xiamen or Fujian pie which has a longstanding culinary tradition. Available in two main types - salty or sweet - the pies are made with top-quality flour and lard, with mung beans then stuffed inside (in the sweet pie) or a mix of diced meat (the salted option). Their crisp and moist textures and delicious tastes have made them exceptionally popular within the region.
Ai Di Kang Jian Kang Mei Shi
Address: No.918-16 Lianqian East Road, Siming District, Xiamen 361008
Sticking with speciality foods, the lancelet is another popular dish that you’ll likely want to try during your visit to Xiamen. This small fish-like chordate, which is also dubbed the crocodile worm, is a true living fossil with a very primitive nervous system. It has no bones, which means it has very tender flesh, and this has contributed to its culinary appeal despite its tiny size (as it doesn’t typically grow longer than five or six centimetres - 2 to 2.4 inches). What’s more, you’ll be able to pick some up as souvenirs for your friends to try, as the dried lancelets remain edible for months (as much as a year or two).
Address: No.168 Taidong Road, Siming District | 1/F, Shangri-La Hotel, Xiamen
Website: Cafe Amoy
Opening hours: 6.30am to 10pm (daily)
7. Calligraphy artwork
China’s famous logograms and their beautifully intricate compositions naturally lend themselves to artistic endeavours. These hanzi - which literally translates to ‘han characters’ - are a rich source of inspiration for many pieces, so much so in fact, that there’s even a museum dedicated to the art form within Xiamen. The International Lettering Museum of Art of Xiamen is one of the city’s more popular tourist attractions and features two floors of paintings, wood carvings and more - all centred around calligraphy art. Will you pick up a piece or two on your travels?
International Lettering Museum of Art of Xiamen
Address: South of Gulangyu Island, Siming District, Xiamen 361002, China
Opening hours: 8.30pm to 5pm (daily)
8. Peanut crunchy candy
If you’ve something of a sweet tooth then you’ll almost certainly want to pick up a bag or two of peanut crunchy candy during your Xiamen adventures. This deceptively simple, and deceptively tasty, recipe sees peanuts de-shelled and then roasted in an oven. Once they are cooked through - usually after around 30 minutes - they are crunched up together and caramelised sugar is added. After cooling, the resultant bars are cut into manageable bite-size pieces - just waiting for you wolf down a few. Their popularity means they can be found in shops across the city.
Renhe Road for popular snacks
Address: Renhe Road, Siming District, Xiamen 361001
9. Stone carving
I suppose it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that Xiamen boasts plenty of stone carving artisans. After all, the city is home to an international trade show for the stone industry that welcomes more than 150,000 visitors every year. A happy coincidence this may be, but it highlights the importance of this raw material to the city. And artisans carving this versatile building material into intricate designs produce all manner of beautiful artworks, just waiting for you to pick up. And nowhere better exemplifies this than at Huihe Stone Cultural Park, which is located within the city’s Zhonglun Park and features everything from a stone carving museum to stone galleries depicting all manner of human, animal and landscape designs. Artists also create works on-site.
Huihe Stone Cultural Park
Address: Huihe Stone Cultural Park, Zhonglun Park, Luling Road, Xiamen
Website: Huihe Stone Cultural Park
Another one for food lovers out there. Zongzi - which are otherwise known to those in the west as rice dumplings - come in all manner of flavours. This versatile treat consists of a sticky lump of rice wrapped up within leaves to hold it together. But it is the addition of different fillings within the rice which lends it its myriad of different flavours. From mung beans, coconut and yams, to chicken, pork and salted eggs - there are so many different potential fillings that you’ll be discovering new taste sensations throughout your visit to Xiamen.
BeiFangRen Du YiChu Dumpling
Address: South of Bengzhan, No.3 Hubin South Road, Xiamen 361004
What will you buy first?
From delicious foods to stunning artworks, there are a dizzying array of stunning products to buy during a visit to Xiamen. So much so, in fact, that you might want to pack a deeper wallet in order to accommodate all the retail therapy you’ll likely indulge in on your travels - especially if you embark on the ferry to Gulangyu.
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