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A Trip Through a Chinese Market

Earlier this week we looked a little bit at food safety in China. Today we are going to look at a Chinese market (nothing comes in packages), these are where most rural Chinese prefer to do their shopping. Whenever I have visitors from the States, I enjoy taking them to the market because it makes such a visceral impact on them and leaves them with the inescapable feeling that they have caught a glimpse of the real China.

I still clearly remember my first trip to the market in Longzhou. It was late August so the air was heavy with humidity and the heat seemed to amplify the fragrance of the fresh fruit along with the pungent smell of meat that had been sitting out for hours.

When we first entered the market, which was a 3 story cement building with a lot of empty floor space, we came to the fruit vendors. It was mostly women sitting behind their piles of papayas, pineapples and passion fruit, along with dozens of others that I didn’t even know the English word for. The colors were fantastic.

I bought one of the pineapples and the lady began shaving off the rind with a razor-sharp knife, then she switched to a v-shaped awl and quickly scooped out the last bits of the rind leaving an intriguing spiral pattern on the pineapple. Just as she went to place it in the bag, the golden-yellow fruit slipped out of her hands and rolled across the mucky floor. She looked mortified. Quickly she grabbed the pineapple by its leafy green sprout and dunked it into a bucket of questionable water. I ended up buying it from her, even though I knew I would have to throw it out as soon as I left the market.

Past the fruit were the vegetables. Somehow these were stacked even higher than the fruits, but were far less exotic. The veggies brought an earthy smell to the market, which was only natural considering the amount of soil still clinging to the mountains of potatoes. Many of these vendors came from the surrounding countryside to sell their vegetables at a slightly higher price than they could at home.

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Beyond the vegetables the market became some kind of nightmarish landscape of unidentifiable flesh. Pale pork and deep red beef sitting out in the Guangxi heat is a smell that I would like to someday forget. I still believe that a single trip through this market is the equivalent of an entire year’s worth of anatomy. There were cow stomachs, congealed pig blood, goose intestines, and the terrifying pig skull with meat and no skin.

There was a man literally hawking snake oil among other dubious cures. The bucket of live scorpions next to him helped us hurry past without daring to look much closer. The thought of it still makes me squeamish.

In the back, men with blow torches were roasting pig feet and other various “treats”. My teaching partner looked a bit disappointed, “I guess it’s not dog season yet,” and with that we headed home.


13 Comments

  1. Your view of the market is a bit different than mine.. our city doesnt have some of the things your market has… interesting to see the differences. Nice article.

    • Tom says:

      Guangxi had a lot of the strange foods that are usually associated with Guangdong. We had dog markets, and fried bee larva, along with a variety of things that I actually wish I could find in the states.

  2. Mark Walker says:

    I do love the memories of the markets I have visited. Building relationships with a few of the vendors really adds to the experience over time.

  3. john book says:

    Well, ya got me on t his one…. in my part of Japan… nothing quite compares to your scenario.
    Good job sir…. keep up the super job you are doing.!!!

  4. Chopstik says:

    Suffice to say this did not make me hungry. 🙂

  5. Dan says:

    It’s good to be reminded that meat comes from actual animals!

  6. Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

  7. Sasha says:

    I love Chinese markets, just visiting is a great way to see so many aspects of their culture come to life! I almost always buy my veggies from my local market, the produce always seems to be in better condition then that at the supermarket. Oh but that pineapple on the ground, now that’s just gross! That’s why you never ever ever should by fruit un-peeled, if they will happily just dunk it in a bucket while you’re right in front of them I’d hate to see what they do when you’re not looking! EEEEK!!!

    • Tom says:

      This is why I don’t buy my meat from these markets. Although I’ve heard if you have to buy meat from a place like this it’s best to freeze it for a week to kill some of the bacteria and such that’s living on it.

  8. Don Tai says:

    Chinese wet markets bring back vivid images and experiences. I clearly remember walking through a wet market in Guangzhou on a hot day. A snake vendor thrust her hand down onto a barrel full of snakes, pulling one unfortunate individual out and skewering its head on a nail on a simple flat board. Moments later in a splatter of blood the skin separated. How my eyes widened!

    Here in Toronto we buy chicken in Styrofoam containers in plastic shrink wrap. Kids cannot see the link between pork and a pig. Meat comes from a grocery store in two varieties: fresh or frozen, but both shrink wrapped in plastic.

    What is worse, the truth or the deception?

  9. […] between on the issue. After all meat is meat, and it all comes from somewhere (read my post about Chinese markets). If the dogs were being butchered in a humane way I might find it acceptable, since they are […]

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