Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Life on the Flip Side: Open Air Markets

Buying food is perhaps one of the most different things about living in China. Not just that many of the western staples we are used to aren't available here, but the whole process. In America now the usual way to get food is just to get in your car and drive to the supermarket, load up with what you need for a week, drive back, unload it, and move on with your day. Buying food from Farmer's markets and such is now an exception and they can be hard to find.

In China, as in much of the world, the most common place to buy fruits and vegetables are street markets. It is actually less common for people to buy their produce (and even meat for that matter) in supermarkets than in open air markets. Many older people won't even consider buying produce or meat from a place like Walmart, preferring to continue their longstanding tradition of shopping once a day in their traditional Chinese markets.

I have friends who have moved from China to more westernized countries and even these young women very much miss going to traditional markets and picking out very fresh produce and meat. One of my friends told me she hates getting her produce already packaged, as she wants to be able to pick out each carrot and potato herself.

Here we often by our produce in open air, farmer's type markets. The produce is generally much better than you will find in a supermarket, although the price might be higher. The selection is almost always better, both in quality and variety of food available. For example, when strawberries first come into season here at the beginning of December, you will only be able to get them in Farmer's markets or from street sellers for several weeks before you will be able to find them at Walmart. So if we have the time we quite prefer the fruit and vegetables at the open air markets.

Watermelons in Walmart

We do still sometimes try to just do one shopping trip at Walmart for the week, because it is simply more convenient. All the prices are marked, so you don't have to ask about each individual item, there is no bargaining, and I have never yet had cause to question the accuracy of Walmart's scale. So if we're trying to be efficient (which is something Americans tend to value way more than here) we will just stop at the supermarket and get as much as we can there.

Old style scale still used in markets

However, even if we are trying to do one stop shopping, it isn't at all usual for the supermarket to suddenly be completely out of something or it will be really poor quality (sometimes for weeks) and we'll make an unplanned stop for sweet potatoes, eggs, sometimes even meat, or something else. One thing that living in a different culture definitely is teaching us is the need to remain flexible. Additionally, we have found some open air markets that offer many other things besides food, some of which are much higher quality than a place like Walmart. They are definitely the only place we've found in a large city like this to offer traditional items like beautiful pots and bamboo baskets.

Large open air market

We do really love much of the unusual produce that are available here and learning new ways to purchase food has taught us many things. We love learning to make new things from ingredients that aren't readily available in the States. We are learning to enjoy eating seasonally as most of the world does.
I am confused about why they wrap the oranges though...

Diana from Saving by Making is currently running a series called Farmers Market Reviews to help people find lesser known Farmers Markets in their area. I think this series could be really helpful for many people living in America. If you live in China I don't think you will actually have a very hard time finding  open air or farmers type of market. But in case you are, I have a broad tip for you that should help you locate one in any Chinese city (Where they speak mandarin anyway). Simply locate an older person carrying a small amount of vegetables (there is a high probability that they shop daily in a local market) and ask them. "Shìchǎng zài nǎlǐ?" (市场在哪里,Where is the street market?). They should be able to point you in the right direction.

In addition to very large markets here it is very common to see produce for sale on a smaller scale anywhere on the streets.  People travel a long way with baskets, carts, or by van to bring in food from the countryside and sell it conveniently all over the city streets. So chances are if you are traveling in China and can't find a large market,  you would still be able to buy local produce from someone like this. It is truly awesome to be able to pick up fresh fruit for a snack on the go, although we usually stick to peel-able fruits for quick snacks.

Personally, I'd love to see America increase the availability of local produce and food products, much like you would find here in the East, but perhaps implement more western hygiene practices for the best of both worlds.

And why wrap oranges but not meat?

Very fresh fish

Dried fruit

1 comment:

  1. Your photos are so neat! I love all the dried fruit and the fresh fish--definitely don't have that here. Sounds like you've done a great job finding a good balance between open-air markets and Walmart, and I bet you're glad you don't have to choose just one :) Thanks for posting--looks like you guys eat great! :)


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