Inside a Chinese Wet Market

Shopping for local groceries in China is an adventure.  Depending on the strength of your stomach, this is either a terrifying, nauseating experience, or a unique dive into the local culture.  In English Expat language, we call these types of supermarkets “Wet Markets”.  If trying to locate one in Chinese, ask for the 菜场 (cài chăng) The name “Wet Market” comes from the fact that often, the floors of these markets are wet from all the washing of the vegetables and the melting ice from the meat and fish.  So if you choose to adventure to the Wet Market, make sure you wear closed toed shoes!

Notice the floor! Photo credit: Kowloon City Market

What does a Wet Market look like?

A Wet Market is generally a hole in the wall (literally) that opens into a high-roofed open area filled with different local vendor’s stalls and wares.  You can literally find everything in a Wet Market.  There are vendors who sell fresh produce, fish, meat, dumplings, oils, nuts, alcohol, fresh tofu and noodles, Hot Pot add ins, turtles, frogs, eggs, almost anything that you could possible eat or drink is sold here.

The part that might freak some people out is that refrigeration in a Wet Market is generally limited, and there are some wares deemed exotic by western standards.  Each vendor supplies their own refrigeration, so depending on their budgets it may just be a block of ice, or it could be a whole freezer.  Also the fact that turtles, frogs, snakes, and other little critters are sold for food might wig some people out.

The Vendors:

The appealing part of the Wet Market is that each vendor is their own boss.  You can chat with the families who grew the food you will eat, and even negotiate prices with the sellers.  Normally if you return to the same vendor multiple times, they will give you a discount or a free bulb of garlic or two.  The vendors tend to be very nice, and make the food shopping experience enjoyable.

But What About the Quality of the Food?!

A Wet Market does not generally offer the high-quality food stuffs of say your City Shop, but the produce and meat you get are the same quality you would be consuming at any local restaurant.  The price in the Wet Market is also staggeringly lower than and chain stores.  You can certainly trust that the food you get in the Wet Market will be fine.  Just make sure you wash it a bit before cooking!

Life in China

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