Have I mentioned the wet market? Have I mentioned my fear of dying due to some ailment that I might catch there? Surely I have! Since moving to Shanghai, I have been given many, many lectures about food safety in relation to the wet market and anything one might decide to buy there. Henry’s school even gives a tour of the place that I have been told mainly consists of scaring people to death. Of course, I have been making judgments based on what I have been told because I have never actually ventured out to the wet market myself. Ahem. Up until now, I have confined myself to the supermarket and the occasional fruit truck parked on my street in order to feed Team Erickson. I must admit that the things I buy from the fruit truck are far superior to the things from the supermarket. The cute little lady at the fruit truck helps me pick the best watermelon and gives me free stuff because I am a good customer. The supermarket could never compete with that! To top it off everything I buy at the supermarket is more expensive than the fruit truck. And it frequently tastes like sawdust.
When we returned from our Bali trip, there was absolutely nothing edible in the house, not even of the sawdust variety. Faced with the prospect of spending the day going to multiple supermarkets only to arrive home with nothing I decided to put off the inevitable by staying in bed as long as possible. This only made the natives restless and more dangerous. By the time I drug myself out of bed they were all “starving”. A neighbor friend called to see if Lucas wanted to come over. They had just arrived home as well and the mom invited me to come with her to do some food shopping. Her driver was working (yeah!) so we could hit a few places and have it be relatively pain free. She knew I hadn’t yet made it to the wet market. She apparently goes twice a week and, in her words, “hasn’t died yet” so we decided that would be our first stop.
You know what? It was awesome. And not in the sarcastic way, it was really genuinely awesome.
In Baltimore, I love the farmers market. Thirty minutes after Henry was born I was calling a friend, not to announce the happy news, but to tell him to make sure he went to the market to pick up our CSA share since I was going to be busy for the rest of the day. I famously risked public scorn by packing up my two week old and heading to the Waverly farmers market. My mother insisted on coming and sitting with him in the car, but the next Saturday I was there with him in the stroller so great is my love of the fresh veggies and fruit. My children have been known, particularly in the summer, to turn up their noses at something “from the supermarket” when they suspect there is the possibility of really fresh stuff from the farmers market or our garden.
So why, oh why, did I not check out the wet market? I have spent the past few years loving a farmers market that takes place under an overpass, but I was sure there was nothing for me at some urban veggie market in Shanghai? For shame. The wet market was actually very similar to the Baltimore market downtown only with fewer homeless people. No one was selling designer dog treats, but there was pretty much everything else. There was a slight smell as we walked in, but it wasn’t anything worse than Carrefour, and, let’s be honest, the underpass farmers market has its own odor at times, if you get my drift. Would I buy meat there? No. But I never bought meat at the Baltimore farmers market, either.
I was surprised that the produce was really gorgeous and so cheap! I bought bags and bags of stuff for what I would normally have paid for a few apples in the supermarket. They had great tomatoes and all sorts of mystery items that I had never seen before. I was able to walk around thinking about what looked the freshest and then decide what I could make rather than glumly considering whatever was available at the supermarket. My friend showed me the places she normally frequents and I wandered around the aisles a bit. Was it organic? I have no clue because shopping there required using Mandarin and sometimes I had no idea what people were saying to me. But all in all, it was a positive experience. Can I make it there in a taxi once a week? Not sure. But I will have to find a way to make a trip or two to the wet market happen because so far, even in my tiny kitchen, cooking with nice vegetables is really making a difference. Score one point for Shanghai, finally.