Buying food at a Chinese market
Photo by Vmenkov
Many newcomers love exploring China’s fruit and veg markets, but it can be a little overwhelming even for people who have been living in the country for a while. Here are some .
Where should I buy fresh fruit and vegetables? Where are the safest places to buy?
Supermarkets, fruit and vegetable markets and small vegetable shops near residential areas are all good choices for buying fresh produce.
Supermarkets provide the highest quality fruit and vegetables, as they purchase from trusted sellers and examine quality to maintain the good reputation of goods sold in their stores. As a result, they charge the highest price. However, there is the possibility that in order to make vegetables and fruits “look” better, they may use additional and unnecessary tricks, such as adding an extra layer of pesticide, or washing vegetables before sending them to the shelves. Some vegetables may go bad sooner after they have been washed for the shelves.
Fruit and vegetable markets are the cheapest places to buy produce. Sellers buy their stock from large distribution centers, which themselves purchase goods directly from the farmers’ fields. As turnover tends to be huge, fresh goods are brought to market each day. However, as most sellers purchase early in the morning, the sooner you buy (and use) the better. Produce may be dirtier than you are used to abroad, but a good clean should take care of that.
Small vegetable shops near residential areas are there to provide convenience to customers. The goods are from the same suppliers as those in vegetable markets, but small stores usually have better facilities for keeping produce refrigerated. This usually means slightly higher prices than at market.
Is the food safe?
Normally vegetables and fruits sold in fruit markets and vegetable shops are safe. However, due to the high volume of foot traffic at shops and markets in China, you should pay careful attention to hygiene. Wash your produce (and your own hands, of course) thoroughly, and cook, steam or otherwise prepare vegetables with heat if you are in any doubt.
Check sell-by or produced-on dates for fruits and vegetables from supermarkets, and pay attention to the news – food scandals occur with depressing regularity. You don’t need to be afraid, but be cautious.
Chinese market vendors always talk about weights in “jin.” How much is one jin in grams?
China uses the jin as a unit of measurement for weight. One jin (市斤; jīn) is roughly 500 grams.
Can I bargain at markets?
Nowadays most market vendors in China do not accept bargaining. If you buy in large quantities, they will possibly give you a very small discount (often less than one yuan, to round up or round down to a whole yuan).
Will the vendor try to cheat me?
It is possible that you could run into an unscrupulous vendor. Most vendors would not cheat you, knowing that they might get away with this once but lose your business forever. If you’re concerned about this, ask other people for guidance as to how much one jin of a particular item should cost. You can also hang back, listen to other customers and hear how much the vendors are charging them. If you are really concerned, buy food from the supermarket, but we encourage you to relax and put your faith in humanity. In this case, at least.
Can I sample items at a market? How do I ask in Chinese?
If you are in a vegetable or fruit market, the vendor may have cut some produce up to allow customers to inspect and taste the items. You can also ask a vendor – they’ll usually be happy for you to try smaller loose items.
Some vendors selling on the street or near tourist sites will let you taste an item, but with the expectation that you will buy something. Do not try something if you have no intention of buying. Keep in mind that vendors always think that you are going to buy. If you try without buying, at least offer a polite apology before you move on.
Supermarkets will sometimes have food on offer to taste, but these are usually promotions from bigger brands. If you want to try loose produce in a supermarket, ask a member of staff.
In Chinese, you should say ”Wǒ kěyǐ cháng cháng ma” to ask if you can taste something.
How do I know the difference between fresh fruits/vegetables and bad quality ones? What should I look for?
Color is the direct way to judge whether fruits and vegetables are fresh. For the most part, if they are blackened, they have gone bad. Also pay attention to smell (bad smells obviously are a fair indication that you should not buy something, unless it’s durian) and touch (gently squeeze items to check that they’re not too soft).
Do I need to wash the fruit/vegetables when I go home?