exploring the fresh market
01/22/2013 - 01/22/2013 72 °F
Today is what I would call a day of rest. For the first time since we got here, the entire family got up around 7:30 a.m. instead of some weird hour like 2 a.m.. The weather is as pleasant as can be, with high around 70 and low around 57. We slept last night with the sliding door to the porch open. It would otherwise be too hot for the kids in their pajamas and the covers we have. I really started to think that I have to unpack the suitcase that holds all of our summer clothes.
Zhexiong came home today during his lunch hour instead of staying in his office for a nap. We played a game called "jiu qing" together. This is a game I remember from my childhood, my family played it often. Strangely I forgot all about the rules, but my dad still knows them. He taught Skyler how to play, and we decided to have a round with Zhexiong being the referee while others watched on. Skyler is getting into all the Chinese strategy games that Zhexiong has around the house. It took quite some time and persuasion to get him out of the apartment to go to the market with me.
Even though supermarkets similar to Meijer and Kroger are now abundant in China, most Chinese residents still go to what is called "cai chang" (i'll loosely translate that as "fresh market") for their grocery needs. Shopping for groceries happens daily in China, sometimes even twice a day: once for lunch and once for dinner. Unlike in U.S., people go home and cook a full meal for lunch as well as dinner. For example, Zhexiong's lunch hour is from 11:30-2:00 p.m.. A nap after lunch is the norm in China, even required in many schools. The groceries offered at the fresh markets tend to have minimum packaging. As all meats, fish and seafood are sold fresh (aka, alive) it is understandable that the environments at fresh markets are a bit off-putting.
We went into that "dirty place" which Skyler refused to go in a few days ago. This time, Skyler took an interest in the live animals section. We started from the fish tanks. There were various types of freshwater fish, shrimp, shellfish, turtles. We then moved on to the cooked meats section, and saw whole cooked chickens and ducks, various parts of pigs, roasted and ready to be consumed. In among these was a stand that provided meat grinding as well as sausage-making services. At last, Skyler requested to go to the fresh meat section. We saw half a pig being taken apart by the butcher. The butcher worked with great ease: first feet, then ribs, then the loin, and then cutting what is left into strips. He hangs the cut pieces on the metal hooks that organized the meats into different categories, and they get sold in a steady stream, sometimes almost immediately. This meat stand seemed to be the busiest one; I suspect customers like knowing that the meat they purchase was just freshly cut.
The other few fresh pork product stands were less "interesting" as Skyler put it. Chinese people eat mainly pork when it comes to meat. My speculation is that pigs are easily raised in a home setting. Families living in the countryside still routinely raise pigs at home, and slaughter them at the end of the year to consume. There is almost no waste in terms of turning pigs into dinner entrees. We eat pretty much every organ of the pig, including the blood. Blood is sold in big cubical chunks with the consistency of gelatin. It is actually a pretty easy process to make: fresh warm blood is collected into a container of salty water, and it naturally solidifies. There were also a couple of stands in the market that sell the non-mainstream meats, such as lamb, beef, rabbit and dog meat. There is much less traffic at those stands.
On the way out of the market, Skyler wanted to buy some grapes that were imported from U.S. (at least it was advertised as such). I was somewhat reluctant but compiled. This made him really happy.