Farmers Market Update: Shanghai
by Karen Merzenich
I recently returned from a week’s vacation in Shanghai, and the highlight of the trip was a visit to Shanghai’s Wet Market on Lianhua Lu in the Minhang District. In a dizzying array of open-air lanes and buildings, the Wet Market serves both wholesale and retail customers.
In a fast-growing city of nearly 25 million people, it’s not surprising that the market remains open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you want to visit the Wet Market, I highly recommend going with a guide who can introduce you to the vendors and answer all of your questions. As far as I know, the only guide service that does this kind of in-depth tour is Shanghai Pathways. It’s an unforgettable trip to an amazing market! I peppered our guide Janny with questions about what was in season, where the produce came from, the lives of the vendors and farmers, and more.
July in China means: watermelons! They are everywhere, and they are delicious. The Chinese watermelons are a round variety about the size of a volleyball. They are juicy and succulent and they sure taste great when it’s 100 degrees out.
The summer humidity brings a wealth of fresh mushrooms, including these monkey mushrooms, which were described as having “a mushroom inside a mushroom.”
The first peaches and nectarines of summer are here too, as well as multiple varieties of corn. In China the yellow corn tends to be sweet, but the white corn has larger kernels and is referred to as glutinous corn.
An important lens to use when shopping for food in China is that of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) teachings–as most Chinese people believe that certain foods are beneficial to eat during certain times of the year for health reasons. For example, a popular Chinese summer food is winter melon, which is thought to cool you down in a hot summer. These winter melons were gargantuan!
Another cooling summer vegetable is soft cucumber, a spiny, delicate cucumber. Wrinkly, knobby bitter melon fits the bill for refreshing the body in the summer heat as well.
While lotus root (also a cooling food) is available year-round, the twisty, knobby part of the lotus appears only around the time the lotus flowers bloom, which is now. (I couldn’t find great information on this, but it seems like the thing we call “lotus root” is really the lotus rhizome, and this thing might actually be part of the root, but I’m not sure at all so don’t hold me to that.)
All manner of rice and beans are also available at this market. Rows of bags and stacks of sacks offer whatever legume or grain your heart desires.
You can also find all sorts of noodles. A Shanghainese special is noodles made from rice and green beans, so some have a light green color.
How about some spice and seasonings? Fresh ginger is available year round, and vendors place fans directly on piles of ginger to dry them out and keep them from molding in the humidity. You can see huge bags of peeled garlic cloves for sale too.
Chili peppers are ground and sorted to varying consistency and size, per the customer’s request.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Wet Market without some meat, fish, and other interesting delicacies. If you are squeamish about meat and butchery, now might be a good time to scroll to the end. I’ll start with something reasonably tame, sides of pork on big iron hooks. You can see the marbled belly pieces, ready for making bacon, on the left.
If you want a century egg, ask the vendor to rinse off the ash, clay, lime, and mud mixture so you can break into that pungent dark green yolk. (I was too wimpy to try one!)
Fresh frogs, snakes, and eels are on display; make a purchase and they’ll be butchered for you to order. (The frogs are in the mesh bag so they don’t jump away, and the snakes are tied up in the green bag, thank goodness.)
If you’re not quite up to eel or frog just yet, you can try beltfish, a popular Chinese seafood staple.
If you’re after hens or roosters, you can peruse the quality of the show bird on top of the cage before picking one out to be beheaded for your soup pot.
But good luck getting this teenager’s attention to skin you a fresh quail–he seems pretty engaged in his video game!
Getting the purchases back to your home or restaurant means loading up your bicycle cart, scooter, or rickshaw.
If you’ve left your scooter for too long, you might find one of the many alley cats that roams the market seeking scraps has taken over.
Market work can be exhausting. Sometimes you just need a break from selling jellyfish all day.
If you’re in Shanghai and you’d like to visit the market: contact Janny at Shanghai Pathways.
Would you like to share your farmers market with Summer Tomato readers? Find out more.