For whatever China lacks in cleanliness (seeing children peeing on the street is a common sight here), it makes up for in freshness. In the West, it is common for families to go grocery shopping once a week, if that, and stock up on preservative-packed food that can last them through a storm. Here, though, people are likely to buy whatever they need for one or two meals, and then return to the market the next day.
While there are traditional supermarkets (here called hypermarkets), meat, produce and a variety of other things are typically bought and sold at wet markets. A stroll through one of these is not for the faint of heart, so we’ve put together a little list of tips to help you navigate the wet market like a pro.
How to Navigate the Wet Market
- Make sure you have small money with you: If you are a foreigner, you’re likely to get ripped off a little (or a lot)—more on this later. But things are still generally very cheap at the wet market, and vendors won’t make change for large bills. They don’t need your business that bad.
- Bring your own bag: Yes, vendors will give you small plastic bags. But they are likely to break, particularly with all of the elbows and shoulders you’re likely to receive, so best to bring your own.
- Listen closely: Yes, if you aren’t Chinese, you will be expected to pay more. If you’re really concerned about this and want to get a fair price, then either go with someone local, or try your best to listen to what other people around you are being charged. Everything is negotiable in China, so if your listening skills are good (and you can muster up the courage to speak a bit of Mandarin), you’ll save yourself a few yuan.
- Look outside for fruits: While you may only see vegetables, meats and fish in the actual market, there are still plenty of fruits available. These are only sold seasonally, and may be more prominent being sold on the streets adjacent to the wet market.
- Wash EVERYTHING: And then wash it again. While everything is amazingly fresh here, everything is also amazingly dirty. The bushels of rice have people running their hands through all day in deciding which rice to buy. The pork you buy will likely still have hairs and bone fragments in it—understandable considering it was probably alive earlier that day. The produce is likely to have flies touching it all day. Just wash everything.
- Stay cool: Don’t be alarmed that the meat isn’t refrigerated. It was likely alive earlier that day, and is meant to be eaten immediately. Fresh is the key word here.
- Eat with caution!: There are no boneless pigs or chickens or fish in the world. And there are no boneless pork or chicken or fish dishes in China. I can’t emphasize enough to be careful before you dig in—don’t choke on a bone!