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Farmers Market Update: Shanghai, China

by | Jul 31, 2011
Lotus Flower

Lotus Flower

Karen Merzenich is a former pastry chef from San Francisco. She writes (mostly) about recipes and travel at Off The (Meat)Hook. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@offthemeathook)

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.

Wet Market

Wet Market

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.

Wet Market

Wet Market

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.

Watermelons

Watermelons

The summer humidity brings a wealth of fresh mushrooms, including these monkey mushrooms, which were described as having “a mushroom inside a mushroom.”

monkey mushrooms

Monkey Mushrooms

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.

Peaches and Glutinous Corn

Peaches and 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!

Winter Melon

Winter Melon

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.

Soft Cucumber and Bitter Melon

Soft Cucumber and Bitter Melon

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.)

Lotus Shoot

Lotus Shoot

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.

Rice, Grains, Beans

Rice, Grains, Beans

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.

Noodles

Noodles

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.

Ginger

Ginger

Chili peppers are ground and sorted to varying consistency and size, per the customer’s request.

Chili Peppers

Chili Peppers

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.

Sides of Pork

Sides of Pork

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!)

Century Eggs

Century Eggs

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.)

Frogs, Snakes and Eels

Frogs, Snakes and Eels

If you’re not quite up to eel or frog just yet, you can try beltfish, a popular Chinese seafood staple.

Belt Fish

Belt Fish

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.

Rooster

Rooster

But good luck getting this teenager’s attention to skin you a fresh quail–he seems pretty engaged in his video game!

Quail Seller

Quail Seller

Getting the purchases back to your home or restaurant means loading up your bicycle cart, scooter, or rickshaw.

Bicycle Cart

Bicycle Cart

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.

Cat on Scooter

Cat on Scooter

Market work can be exhausting. Sometimes you just need a break from selling jellyfish all day.

Napping Woman

Napping Woman

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.

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Farmers Market Update: Best Cherries Ever

by | May 29, 2011
Mountain of Cherries

Mountain of Cherries

I’ve been doing this farmers market thing for awhile now, and I have to say that cherries are without a doubt some of the most difficult fruit to photograph. They’re so bright red that it washes out nearly every detail on the fruit, and drowns every other color in the frame.

Consequently I rarely feature my cherry images, and today would have been no different if I didn’t think leaving them out would be a crime. Because anyone who went to the San Francisco farmers market this weekend knows that the cherries were the star of the show.

Tasty Strawberries

Tasty Strawberries

And that’s no small feat this time of year. Today I tasted a strawberry so good I thought it had been injected with sugar, because it reminded me more of the sweetened agua fresca drinks from the taquerias in the Mission district than it did any natural fruit.

But still the cherries were better. Not only that, they’re better than they were last year and possibly the year before that. Honestly it was difficult to not buy some from every farm I stopped at, and I do regret not coming home with more. Don’t miss the cherries this year folks.

Brooks Cherries

Brooks Cherries

Of course there were other notable spring treats as well. Rhubarb is here, and before the season ends I’m determined to try to figure out how to use it. Most of the recipes I’ve seen for it are sweet, which I’m not so excited about. If you know of any good savory recipe, please let me know.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

Generally all the spring vegetables are still amazing. I’m especially loving the sweet spring onions, though I’m normally not a huge onion person. This year I’m adding green onions to everything from eggs to salad. The leeks are excellent too.

Spring Vegetables

Spring Vegetables

Oddly even summer produce is starting to appear. I was stunned today to see watermelon and peppers this early in the season. The vendor told me it was from their farm in Southern California, which makes a bit more sense.

First Watermelon

First Watermelons

But as much as I love summer, I’m not ready to skip ahead just yet. I still haven’t tried any of these beautiful blueberries on my morning muesli.

Blueberries

Blueberries

Nor have I found anything to do with green almonds yet this season.

Green Almonds

Green Almonds

And the last of the citrus fruits shouldn’t be ignored either. This late in the season tangelos, navel oranges and kumquats are the best. Though we had some spectacular blood orange juice this weekend as well.

Kumquats

Kumquats

It’s truly an amazing time of year for the farmers market. Don’t miss it.

Big Tomatoes

Big Tomatoes

Today’s purchases:

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For The Love Of Food

by | Oct 22, 2010

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

Before we get started, I’ve been collecting feedback from readers on what you do and don’t like about Summer Tomato and how I can make it better moving forward. If you have 2 minutes, please go to my 7 question survey and let me know what you think.

Summer Tomato survey

Thanks in advance for your time. I’ll be sending out a newsletter next week with answers to commonly asked questions and requests.

On the web this week I found a simple shopping technique that can help you make healthier choices and the best cooking and recipe iPhone apps. I also explored the mysterious case of the missing mango and learned how and why to get more exercise without breaking a sweat.

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For a complete reading list join me on Digg. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

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