I think I must be a very food focused person, to be writing about food yet again, but I really do want to share another food-shopping experience here. This week we ventured again into the local wet market. You may recall, we’ve been once before, on that occasion we were in hot pursuit of Peking Duck, which we acquired by being led into the wet market by our driver, who conducted the transaction for us while we furtively glanced around and then left again.
Our impressions that first time were of a vibrant, busy market, which was in equal measures fascinating and overwhelming. For a family who receives the bulk of our food in plastic packages passed through the front door of our apartment every week, an open market of fresh food is both appealing and foreign. On our first visit we barely saw a glimpse of what was really on offer, but this time we explored.
My parents were with us, and as true foodies they were interested in checking out this kind of place on their short visit from New Zealand. The four of us wandered in to explore. At first the smell of the fresh fish and seafood is off putting, its strong and its everywhere and its so unlike how we’re used to seeing food like that displayed for sale, its confronting.
I found myself wondering what words and phrases I need to learn and practice to be able to shop there, how can I learn to understand the prices they’re telling me? How can I get a grasp of the units of measure they use? How can I go back to plastic wrapped online produce when I have this resource so close to home?
Why am I overthinking this? Surely I just need to show up with my shopping list and figure it out!
So today, we did. We started with a rather triumphant trip to Carrefour. Triumphant because I’ve come home with massive quantities of UHT milk, cornflakes and toilet paper; these are our three major stock-up items, and looking at my cupboards I can’t imagine a day when I might actually run low of these things ever again, bring on the apocalypse, I’m ready! I have also acquired more cheese and butter than I’ve ever bought in one day before – I think I’m getting the hang of things here.
Next stop – the local wet market. I took the kids for a look through what I call the ‘fresh’ section (aka- still alive), before touring the butchery (recently deceased) before venturing into the relative peace and comfort of the vegetable section where we easily completed our shopping.
Walking out of there, I was struck by the contrasts of our life here, and the choices we make about experiencing that or not. I can be driven around the city at a whim, with a car and driver at my beck and call, or I can find my way to the underground and for a few cents find my way across the city with independence and alongside all kinds of people. I can shop online and pay over the odds to have imported foods delivered to my door, or I can walk to the wet market and pay a pittance for really good, fresh food. I’m sure I’ll continue to make all those choices from week to week, because to be realistic, I couldn’t give up all the easy choices either, but to deny ourselves the experiences of the harder choices would be to choose to learn less, see less and gain less from this whole experience.
As for my parent’s visit, did my plan from my last blog pan out? Yes and no, we never quite made it to The Bund for dinner, but we did have some fabulous meals. The sidecar tour exceeded all of our expectations and as well as giving us a fantastic time and taking us to some outstanding street food, they picked us up from pre dinner cocktails in Xintiandi and delivered us to the restaurant I’d booked for a post-tour dinner in the former French concession. After dinner we took in another cocktail at a 38th floor bar where we could relax and admire the view of nighttime Shanghai. It was a wonderful four days, and we left enough of Shanghai unseen and untasted for my parents to make many future visits.