One of the hardest things to adjust to when moving to China is the food. It’s not that it’s bad. (Ok, some of it is, but most of it is very good.) It’s just that it’s a completely different diet than we’re used to eating. They don’t eat a lot of dairy products, including milk and cheese, so they are a little scarce. You can find them in most import shops, but they are more expensive than other parts of the world. A small 8 oz block of cheese runs about $5 here.
The milk isn’t found in the refrigerated section. It comes in a box. It is not pasteurized, but sterilized with a process called UHT, ultra-high-temperature processing. I expected for it to be very different than what we were used to, but it’s not that bad. The hardest part is that it is hard to find low fat or skim varieties.
Another difference is that canned and boxed processed foods that we use often in the States are not readily available. Again, some are available in the foreign import stores, but for the most part Chinese don’t use pre-packaged foods. For the last couple of years, I’d been cutting back on cooking with this type of food anyway. I think we consume way too many preservatives in the US, so I had started to cook from scratch more. Not all organic, just as natural as was convenient. However, I never realized how often I did just crack open a can of condensed soup or a jar of spaghetti sauce or a box of noodles.
But I guess necessity makes it much easier to change.
Now instead of going to the grocery store with aisles of boxes and plastic wrapped meat and vegetables, I go to the farmer’s market. It is known as “bei shi chang” here in Shenyang, translated it means North Market.
And it’s awesome.
And I spent around $15 US for all of it.
It’s one of the best parts about Bei Shi. I can shop with my change purse.
See that? It’s a pound of fresh pasta.
And I paid 3¥ for it. That’s less than 50 cents.
And I’m afraid I’m getting spoiled. It is so much better than the dried stuff, I’m either going to have to make my own or find a place that sells fresh pasta when I get back home. But even if I do, I’ll bet it will cost more than 50 cent per pound.
And the veggies…
are so fresh! And yummy! And CHEAP. I spent about $4 for all of those.
The strawberries have just showed up too. I’m not sure where they get these from because it is still too cold for them to grow anywhere near here, but let me tell you. These are by far the best I’ve ever tasted. And we have some pretty good strawberries in the South where I’m from. A lot of times growing up we’d sprinkle them with sugar to make a syrup. You really couldn’t do that to these. If they were any sweeter, you wouldn’t be able to eat them.
They also have several vendors who sell meat. They are separated by animal, so there are a few tables with pork, a couple with chicken, and some with beef. All the different parts are all laid out so I just point to what I want. They sell it by the “jin” with is equal to 500 grams or a little more than a pound.
The best part is that the Chinese eat different parts of the animal than we do. And by that, I mean EVERY other part. The chicken lady has stacks of heads and necks and wings, all available for purchase. And those parts… are more expensive than the breasts. I think she loves to see us foreigners coming because we buy up the cuts that no one else wants. Here they say the white meat is flavorless. They prefer the pieces with bones and cartilage.
Which is fine by me. Just means the breasts are cheap. Usually less than $1 per pound.
I also picked up a pork tenderloin for around $3. And some fresh ground chuck for $2.
I was a little wary the first time I went. It’s different buying meat when you watch them slice off the pieces with their knife right out in the open. Some of them wear gloves. But I’m pretty sure it’s to keep the meat juices off their hands, not to keep germs off the meat because often they’ll take your money with the same gloved hand.
It really isn’t a place for someone with a weak stomach about food. It’s definitely not super clean (or really clean at all) but the food is fresh. And after eating it for the last few months (and I’m still alive and have never had an ill feeling I might add), food wrapped in plastic just isn’t so appealing anymore.
And really? How do you know they used gloves or washed their hands before they wrapped it up anyway? And when? If you really think about it, we put an awful lot of trust in that butcher behind the big glass wall.
I like my fresh market more and more every time I go. It’s a habit I hope I can keep up when I move back to the States.