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article imagePhoto Essay: Visiting a traditional wet market in Beijing Special

By Igor I. Solar     Aug 21, 2011 in Travel
Beijing - Wet farmer’s markets, also known as “Free Markets”, are a regular feature in many typical neighbourhoods in Chinese cities; they are the right place to purchase live and dead animals and the freshest and least expensive produce.
Western-style Supermarkets are not rare in modern Chinese cities, particularly in the downtown sections or large metropolises. However, the traditional Asian wet market is still a very frequent component of the surrounding neighbourhoods in Beijing or Shanghai were people purchase basic, and sometimes sophisticated, food necessities.
Grains and cereals are sold in bulk and the choices are huge. The buyer is supposed to know all the ...
Grains and cereals are sold in bulk and the choices are huge. The buyer is supposed to know all the products since name and price are not displayed.
Some produce sellers indicate the price of the product  but in most cases the cost per unit is agree...
Some produce sellers indicate the price of the product, but in most cases the cost per unit is agreed between seller and buyer after a polite exchange of opinions.
In these very busy and colourful markets hygiene is not regularly the main concern. Nonetheless, at the end of the day floors and walls are routinely sprayed and washed with plenty of water to the extent of flooding; a custom which gave these places the name of "wet market". In general, the wet market building is operated and maintained by the owners. Stalls are rented out to independent farmers, who sell their own produce or purchase goods from traders for resale.
Spicy food at a food market.
Spicy food at a food market.
The “wet market”, called a Cài Shì Cháng in Mandarin, literally meaning “vegetable market”, refers to a place where shoppers can find local farmer’s vegetable produce, but also butcher shops selling not only poultry, pork or fish but also amphibians and reptiles. Since the animals are butchered, sold and eaten the very same day, refrigeration is often deemed unnecessary. The meat shops are regularly in a separate section from the fruit and vegetable stalls. Prices are not displayed; customers have to ask, and bargaining is not judged out of place.
Food items always look fresh and service is friendly and courteous.
Food items always look fresh and service is friendly and courteous.
A variety of vegetables  seafood  pork sausages and prepared poultry parts is always available at th...
A variety of vegetables, seafood, pork sausages and prepared poultry parts is always available at the wet markets in Beijing.
The traditional Asian wet market originated long time ago at the time refrigeration was not regularly available. The markets started as a place selling live animals out in the open. Depending on the region, the terrestrial animals were held usually alive in cages and the fish in tanks. The animals were chosen by the customer and killed by the seller to take home. To avoid spoilage and waste, people only purchased the meat and vegetables needed for today’s meals. Tomorrow’s dinner meant another trip to the market. The areas surrounding the markets often favoured social encounters or became a good place to have a chat, read a magazine, have the bicycle repaired or get a haircut.
Meat counter at the pork butcher shop in a Beijing wet market.
Meat counter at the pork butcher shop in a Beijing wet market.
Surrounding areas at the wet markets are often used to socialize  chat or read newspapers and magazi...
Surrounding areas at the wet markets are often used to socialize, chat or read newspapers and magazines.
Wet markets in Beijing are busy places where one may buy food  get a haircut or have the bicycle fix...
Wet markets in Beijing are busy places where one may buy food, get a haircut or have the bicycle fixed.
Following the Chinese Revolution of 1948 - 1952, the state assumed control of food production and marketing. By 1979, China's government-controlled agricultural sector was in trouble and food supply for the ever growing Chinese population was becoming alarmingly scarce. The government recognized that reforms were needed. In 1985, following several unsuccessful experiments to influence the People's Communes into growing items that were in short supply, the government withdrew entirely from attempting to control production and distribution of most crops including fresh fruits and vegetables. The People's Communes were dissolved and the farmers decided what to grow. The supply and demand regulated the market prices. These changes led to what was then called the "free market" system, which operates in China today and that accounts for the abundance of cheap, fresh produce currently available throughout the country. Chinese nationals living in western countries apply the same principles in the Chinatowns of Vancouver, San Francisco or New York.
During peak hours  usually in the morning  wet markets in Beijing are very crowded places.
During peak hours, usually in the morning, wet markets in Beijing are very crowded places.
Chinese currencies
Chinese currencies
Visiting a wet market in China is an extraordinary and unforgettable experience.The quality, freshness and appearance of fruits and vegetables are outstanding. However, if one is worried about hygiene requirements, particularly in connection with the meat stalls, or concerned about getting one’s footwear soiled, wet markets are not among the most alluring places. But if you visit and feel tempted to purchase some exotic produce, using small notes is a must. Things are inexpensive and sellers only take small local currency.
More about China, Wet market, Beijing, Farmers markets, Local produce
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