Thursday, June 26, 2014

"So, like...what do you eat in China?"


So the question I probably get the most is, "What do you eat in China?" This was my number one concern when moving here because... Peyton and I don't like Chinese food. 


When we came on our first trip to Shanghai, I had our relocation lady take us to see where I would be doing my grocery shopping. She took me to a store, and I can still remember it quite vividly. There were these huge tanks of live fish, frogs, shrimp, and oysters that I could smell 2 blocks away. Big barrels filled with dried fish jerky, chicken legs, and dehydrated herbs littered the aisles. They also had imported food where canned mushroom soup cost about $8 each. Mac & cheese $6 a box. Breakfast Cereal almost $10. I remember getting back into the car and crying my eyes out. You know by now I am a little dramatic, right? 


Living in the states I had become so comfortable with my little Ralphs, Trader Joes and Costco circuit that the thought of going to anywhere else threw me for a loop. (p.s. my mouth is salivating right now thinking about Costco Pizza.) 

The first time I went grocery shopping alone I was so confused by everything, because...it was all in Chinese. Duh. Why would it be written in English? The packaging, the price, the description, the nutritional facts...all in characters. I literally picked up a bag of something and could not for the life of me tell what was inside. I shook it, I smelled it, I crunched it...and I put it back on the shelf. 
This was going to be a lot harder than I expected. This is also where I really came to appreciate the beauty of pictures. Hey, look! There's a picture of a chicken on this bag. This is also where I really came to question everything. Does that mean there is chicken feet in this bag? Is it chicken flavored? Are there eggs inside? Maybe that is not a chicken at all. I really need to have a talk to these packaging people. 


Sooner or later I discussed grocery stores with my new expat friends and they told me where I could go to get my beloved imported (and expensive!) food. They also were able to give me advice on the stores that had English in teeny tiny print on the bottom of the tag. This became like a scavenger hunt to find the right ingredients that would work with my recipes. 
(Side note: I have been really amazing at revising my cookbook. Don't have that...Where would I get that? That is too expensive here...Okay! Thats it. We are having rice for dinner. Again. ) 

Aisles and aisles of soy sauce! 

Now, I am really not giving China enough credit. They do have something amazing here that the United States doesn't. I'm a little tempted not to share it with you, because I like the sympathy I have been receiving, but I am here to just lay it out in the open. China has grocery stores that deliver for free. There. I said it. Every other week I order my imported (and safe!) poultry, my boxed milk (a rant post for another day), my canned goods, and my beloved $9 boxed breakfast cereal. Peyton has been known to ask me what I am doing only to be told, "grocery shopping," while I am indeed sitting on the couch breastfeeding, while on the computer. I am an awesome multitasker. 

Pretty packaged MSG. Yummy! 


There are certain things I cannot get online and that takes me to my next topic of...wet markets. A wet market is a place where you go to buy mainly fruits and vegetables. My friend described it as a "less fuzzy feeling farmers market." That pretty much sums it up. I have my fruit lady, and I have the lady I go to for all my vegetables. They know that on Mondays I usually get apples and bananas, on Friday I get my lettuce, and they always throw in some extra free garlic bulbs. They are like my little Chinese fairies. The produce is so fresh here that it usually goes bad within a few days. It is normal here to visit the wet market daily to buy your produce only for the day. That's right. I have to go to the store almost every day. (More sympathy, please.) 



They also have fresh (like, we just killed it outside 10 minutes ago) meat and seafood at the wet market. I do not buy it here. I am not interested in sitting on the toilet for a week.


The good thing is, produce at the wet market is super cheap. One day I got a head of romaine lettuce for 6 cents. I am not even joking. I believe that this wet market outing I paid $5 U.S. for the following. Pretty good, eh? 




China has its positives and disadvantages when it comes to grocery shopping (and everything else.) But through all this experience, it has made me become a more laid back and 'roll with the punches' kind of person. 


And you know that store we went to the first time we visited China that horrified me? I recently went back since moving here and thought to myself, "This place is awesome! Why don't I shop here?!"