Inside Quanzhou’s “oyster village,” where people use oyster shells to build houses

Updated: 2015-09-08
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Approximately 10 kilometers southeast of downtown Quanzhou is an ancient fishing village at the estuary of the Maritime Silk Road.

There are two things attracting visitors: oysters, and a photo of the colorfully dressed women who sell them.

The oyster women pique tourists' interest with their flamboyant costumes, exotic hairdos and supposedly Arabic heritage.

And the oysters themselves? Well, they might just be the freshest and tastiest in all of China.


Exotic fisherwomen

When arriving here, what first catches the eye is the women. They may not be supermodels, but their flowery hair styles and flamboyant costumes are certainly unique and attract the curiosity of tourists.




A woman in her sixties, wearing a garland decorated with yellow chrysanthemum, said that when she was a newlywed decades ago, she spent more money on flowers than on food.

Some Chinese historians believe that the villagers of Xunpu are the descendents of Arab traders and seafarers, which is why the women wear a distinctively different set of costumes and head ornaments than most Han Chinese.

During the Song and Yuan dynasties, Quanzhou enjoyed fame and prosperity as the Arabs' first port of call on the Maritime Silk Road in China.

The traders brought ivory, spices, rhino horn and other exotic goods, and then sailed back to the Middle East with Chinese tea, silk and porcelain.



Fresh, meaty oysters


Xunpu's women spend hours every day shucking oysters


The 1.5-square-kilometer neighborhood is most celebrated for its fresh, meaty oysters.

Fujianese consider the oysters produced in Xunpu to be the best. Knowledgeable foodies in Quanzhou drive here regularly to stock up on freshly shucked oysters for cooking at home.


Xunpu women serve the best oysters in China.


A made-to-order oyster omelet (海蛎煎) is a quite popular snack there.

The oysters are pan-fried with eggs, sweet potato starch and chives. Although the dish tastes quite similar to the Teochew equivalent, the Xunpu version is less crispy.


Buildings walled with oyster shells



With tons of oysters sold every day, local villagers have found an ingenious way of putting mountains of empty shells to good use -- by building houses.

"People in Xunpu village started to build houses using oyster shells as early as the Song Dynasty. It’s quite a long history," a local resident said.

Locals believe these shell structures won’t erode in the salty sea breeze. Some houses have been standing for hundreds of years and show no signs of decay.

Although wealthier villagers have begun building their homes in along the main street in concrete, these oyster houses still dot the landscape, together with their colorfully dressed female inhabitants.





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