After moving to US from China, what I miss the most is the Chinese fresh markets. They look like Farmer’s Markets here in US, but imagine that having it everyday in both early morning and late afternoon, always in walking distance, with breakfast carts, and offering every fresh produce that you would need to cook an authentic meal.
Chinese are used to getting fresh ingredients daily. When I was a child, my parents would stop at the fresh market on their way home, pick up a couple different kind of veggies and a strip of meat, and cook all into a dinner. They would also pick up a handful of eggs and a couple bags of milk for breakfast next morning. Because things are cooked and eaten the same day, many Chinese family have only a small fridge under the kitchen counter – there is neither fresh produce nor much leftovers to store. This practice does not only guarantee the freshness of the food, but also encourage the exercise of portion control and eliminate food waste.
Vegetables at Beijing fresh markets
Meat and eggs
Fish and seafood product
One thing the fresh markets in China differs from American farmer’s markets, is that the produce sold in Chinese fresh market are mostly productions from industry-scale farms and factories. It is not guaranteed organic.
I do not think anything organic can grow to this size…
The sellers at the booth are also not farmers, but distributors. Farmers near Beijing sell their produce to government-owned distribution centers outside of the city. At the distribution centers, goods are inspected, cleaned, processed if necessary, then picked up by fresh market sellers in bulk before dawn. The goods are then transported inside Beijing to all the fresh markets and sold in retail value. The price and the quality of the goods are controlled by the government, as part of the “Vegetable Basket Project”, which ensure low price for general public.
Fresh fruit at Beijing fresh markets
Chinese fresh market offers not only meat, fish and fresh produce like vegetable and eggs, but also tofu, dry spices, ready-to-cook noodles, and Chinese versions of bread (ManTou, DaBing, and HuaJuan). So they are really the one-stop shop for all the food you need for a dinner. There are also many of them in Beijing – almost one in every a few city blocks. They are conveniently located near major traffic stops, such as subway stations, light rail stations, or outside of big apartment complexes. So people can easily pick up their food on the way home without making detours or driving.
Tofu stand – how many different kind of tofu do you eat?
Spice – ginger, garlic, and onions and leek
Dy spice heaven
If you do not feel like cooking, fresh markets also offer ready-to-eat or ready-to-boil items. Cold cuts and smoked meat, hand-made noodles, frozen dumplings, steamed buns, and endless snacks.
Dry goods, nuts
Sunflower seeds in every flavor
Mornings are the most popular time for Beijing fresh markets. Not only elderly and retirees choose to stop by to get food for the day, people who work 9-5 also stop by for a quick breakfast. Fresh market offers breakfast food carts, basically eliminated the needs for cooking breakfast at home if you have a commute. However, most of the people who have the leisure to slowly browse the markets, are still elder people. Walking to the market, having a sit-down breakfast, taking time to decide what to eat that day, poking fruits and veggies to make sure they are juicy to the liking, filling their small shopping carts, and walking slowly back to their apartments with the price, are the first exercise during the day.
Small shopping carts are necessity
I miss the fresh markets dearly when I live in US. I miss the one-stop-for-all convenience, I miss the hot tofu soup and buns for breakfast, and I miss the people, the bargaining, and the noise. For the most, I miss the luxury of getting fresh produce everyday, which seems too time-consuming in my adopted culture. I wish that there were a small market I could walk to everyday, instead of driving 15 minutes one way. I wish that I do not have to do meal planning and end up eating half-rotten spinach for the second part of the week…Well, a girl can dream.
How often do you do grocery shopping? Do you eat fresh veggie everyday? Do you use meal-plan? Or you are lucky to live across the street to a supermarket where you shop a little bit everyday?