The backstreets leading north from the Drum Tower have been home to the city’s Hui community (non-Uyghur Chinese Muslims) for centuries, perhaps as far back as the Ming dynasty or further still. The narrow lanes are full of butcher shops, sesame-oil factories, smaller mosques hidden behind enormous wooden doors, men in white skullcaps and women with their heads covered in coloured scarves. It’s a great place to wander and is especially atmospheric at night.
Good streets to stroll down are Xiyang Shi, Dapi Yuan and Damaishi Jie, which runs north off Xi Dajie through an interesting Islamic food market. For Hui street food and snacks, head down Beiyuanmen, but beware it's almost always crowded.