Zhongshan Lu is a historic shopping street in Xiamen where pedestrians rule the roost. The scent that lingers among the colonial buildings here changes with every step, from perfume wafting out of boutiques to the spicy aromas of food stalls. Whether you’re looking for candied hawthorn fruit or silk embroidered fabrics, you’re sure to find an irresistible local specialty here.
Merchants from Europe alighted in Xiamen hundreds of years ago thanks to its close proximity to the Maritime Silk Route. This trade route has left its mark on the city: you will find hundreds of shops, warehouses and restaurants along Zhongshan Lu, the city’s most prosperous street. There is so much to see along this road, which cuts through the historic centre of Xiamen, that it can be hard to believe it’s only a kilometre long.
In the evening, as the intricate façades of colonial buildings light up, beautiful Zhongshan Lu truly comes to life. And because shops here only close their doors late and many of the eateries are open non-stop, everyone is at ease as they stroll through the street. The popular department stores Hualian and Paris Spring offer products such as local embroidery – amazing designs of mythical animals portrayed in brightly coloured silk on black fabric. And the Chinese are great fans of gold as well: the jewellery chain Jinlu is a popular window-shopping destination.
Zhongshan Lu ends on the waterfront, so the sea is never far away. Fresh lobster, crabs and shellfish are displayed on handcarts and stir fried into delicious dishes on the spot. In other food outlets, steamed morsels of dough and shrimp are showcased in bamboo baskets. And a little further still you’ll find fish sticks sizzling on baking trays. One of the traditional dishes from Xiamen is peanut soup, which you can sample for a song in the restaurant at number 20. Peanuts are also turned into candy bars after being roasted and sugared. The Chinese are definitely not averse to sweets either: stalls on Zhongshan Lu sell tanghulu, a snack from Beijing consisting of a bamboo stick on which fruit (traditionally Chinese hawthorn) is threaded. The fruit is dipped in sugar syrup to neutralise the sour taste and to give it a sweet twist. If you prefer something seriously sweet, the delicacy comes in pineapple, kiwi, tangerine and strawberry versions too.