Shopping. Love it or hate it, it is definitely an integral part of your daily life. And the first thing you need to figure out when you come to a new place is where you can get necessities. Be it at the beginning of an expat assignment or when you move to a new city for any reason. So, today, I want to start introducing to you the markets of Shenyang and where you can get the things that you need on a daily basis here.
One of our most basic needs as humans is food, so why don’t we start with that. Sure, you can go to a supermarket and you can buy groceries there but what fun would that be? Shenyang has a range of super-interesting produce markets where are you can buy vegetables, fruits, meat and seafood that is not only cheaper, but also often much fresher than anything the large supermarkets provide.
Of course, shopping at a market here in Shenyang is a little bit more challenging than going to one of the megastores that display all the prices and give you most directions even to the different aisles in English. Then again, buying at a local market is an adventure. What are we waiting for, then?
Run-of-the-mill markets are a dime a dozen in the city. You can find them on almost every street corner. What’s interesting is that markets here as opposed to my home country, are almost exclusively and indoor affair. I’m used to seeing stalls on a little square with individuals displaying their wares.
Here, a market resembles a poorly maintained or unfinished mall with stall beside stall beside stall, and often, an entire floor of the building is dedicated to one product, or at least a very small product range. If someone sells beef, they only sell beef. If you sell vegetables, there is not a single fruit to be found at your stall. Products are arranged by section. So, there’s a fruit section, a vegetable section, a section where pork is sold, which is separate from the one for beef, and so on and so forth.
How do I buy?
When it comes to prices, they are always given per 500 g. Whichever price someone mentions to you or whatever price is indicated on a sign that they might have, everything will be per half a kilo.
Even eggs are sold by weight. It took me walking up to the egg stall and ordering 12 and the sales person looking at me like I had grown horns to realize my mistake. Well, actually, it only dawned on me when she kept piling eggs and wouldn’t stop. She thought this crazy foreigner wanted to buy 6 kg of eggs in one go. In her stead, I would have been surprised as well!
If you want to buy 500 g of something, simply pointing at your product of choice and holding up one finger will be enough, no Chinese skills needed. The sellers will show you the price either on a sign or type it into a calculator or their phone, so even for that, non-Chinese speakers are fine.
For more complex transactions (such as how to order 12 eggs, not 12 POUNDS of eggs, or asking for something you need but cannot see displayed right there), you will of course need some Survival Mandarin vocabulary.
How do I pay?
Payment, especially at food stuffs markets will mostly be via WeChat or possibly buy Alipay. If you want to be backwards and totally old-school, you could pay in cash. But this means of payment is getting less and less frequent, so if you do not have exact change, it might be difficult.
I have seen people purchase something in cash at a market stall because they did not have enough money left on their WeChat. And the salesperson, because they couldn’t give them change, transferred them the remainder onto a WeChat or Alipay account. Welcome to China!
In addition to those ‘normal’ markets that carry a bit of everything you need when it comes to foodstuffs, Shenyang also boasts some more special food markets. Today, I will introduce you to two different ones that I believe merit attention.
Wholesale Fruit Market
The first of these is the wholesale market for fruit in Dadong district. Called 八家子水果市场 in Chinese, bājiāzi shuǐguǒ shìchǎng in pinyin, this market only has fruit, and only in really large quantities. The multi-storied building is hollowed out in the middle, with stalls arranged on galleries around the walls. Interestingly enough, you do not necessarily get a huge variety of different fruits there. But you get the best selection of whatever fruit is in season.
My favorite seasonal fruit to buy there is mango. When mangoes are in season (mostly in June and July), you can find over a dozen varieties of them at the wholesale fruit market. True, you are mostly expected to buy upwards of 30 kilos, but since mangoes are one of my favorite fruits and I have a million different things I like to use them for, I can’t quite bring myself to care.
We did split a crate of mangoes with a friend, once, and of the 15 kg that remained with us, we made: mango jam, mango liqueur, mango smoothies, froze some of them, made mango puree. And my project for next mango season is to dry them, as our latest toy is a new dehydrator. But that’s a different story for another day…
On the ground floor of the building, you also find opportunities for buying slightly smaller quantities (read 3-5kg) of fruit. But those offers will be pricier, of course. And, you should also be aware that the price you pay is for the fruit including packaging. The ‘arrangements’ up for sale there are usually some fruit neatly packaged and presented. And sometimes, there is paper for ‘padding’ at the bottom of the container. Some vendors soak this paper in water to make the entire thing heavier and drive up the prices. Just be aware of that and check very well what it is they are selling you.
Even if you don’t want to buy any fruit there, go check it out anyway. It is quite an impressive sight, especially upstairs, where all the fruits are sorted, packaged, and prepared for shipping. And also the yard, where trucks are parked, ready to be loaded and cart the merchandise away.
The best time to visit is very early in the morning. The complex opens at 4:00am, so by 10:00am latest, most of the good fruit has been sold.
In addition to the big building, there are smaller annexes which sell more manageable quantities of fruit and also have a larger variety. Prices are again slightly higher, but you really are spoilt for choice there. And it is all still less expensive than at the supermarket. These places will also have some fruits that are more difficult to buy elsewhere, such as avocado (considered a fruit in China, though I personally still think it’s a vegetable).
The wholesale fruit market is located in Dadong district, not too far from Shenyang East train station. The street address is 东贸路41号 (dōngmào lù 41 hào in pinyin). Access via public transport is possible, by getting off bus line 275 at bus stop 八家子水果市场 (bājiāzi shuǐguǒ shìchǎng in pinyin), the same name as the market.
The better option, though, is to come by car, as you can park right by the building. Drive onto the car park and try finding a space around the back of the building.
Because of all the trucks, it will be chaotic. Just aim for a space a bit away from the hustle and bustle so your vehicle doesn’t get scratched by passing trolleys or boxed in by inattentive delivery truck drivers.
The second market I want to introduce to you is the ‘farmer’s market’ in Tawan (called 塔湾.北行农贸市场 in Chinese, tǎwān běiháng nóngmào shìchǎng in pinyin). I put the farmer bit in quotation marks, because it is a huge place and I doubt that anyone selling things there is actually a farmer…
While this market offers a little bit of everything, there are two main reasons why you go to Tawan: the first one is meat and the second one is seafood. Rumor has it that kitchen staff from the big hotels in Shenyang all go to this market to buy their meat supplies. And the seafood selection is out of this world as well.
The ground floor is filled with all the seafood you can imagine and some you never thought of eating. There are countless kinds of fish, and shellfish such as mussels, scallops, and abalone as well as various kinds of shrimp. You also find lobster there, spider crabs, sea cucumbers, and turtles.
As is the norm in China, the animals are mostly still alive (with the exception of some frozen fish or shrimp), which makes this section of the market look more like a pet shop than a place to buy seafood. If you are a bit squeamish, you might want to refrain from buying anything there, as you will have to kill it yourself.
One floor up is divided between the meat section and some vegetable and fruit vendors, as well as a couple of stalls that sell condiments and dried foodstuffs. Mostly, though, it is meat. The biggest part of that floor is taken up by the pork vendors, with smaller sections devoted to those selling beef, lamb, and chicken.
You will be spoilt for choice, but the cuts might not be what you are used to. Chinese butchers to not necessarily differentiate between brisket, sirloin, rump, or neck, for instance. That is both good and bad. The good part is that most meat is the same price. The bad part is that if you want to have a good steak, or a tasty roast, you need to be able to cut them yourself from a larger hunk of meat. And you better know from where on the animal the chunk of meat before you is.
Tawan Market is located in Huanggu district, at Tawan Street (塔湾街 in Chinese, tǎwān jiē in pinyin) and Minglian Road (明廉路 in Chinese, mínglián lù in pinyin). At some point in the future, one of the new metro lines will stop there. But for now, it’s only buses or coming by car. Bus stop 食品公司南 is closest (shípǐn gōngsī nán in pinyin); bus lines 158 and 208 stop there.
Do you regularly buy at a local Chinese market? Or does all your food come from one of the large supermarkets instead? Let me know in the comments!