My local wet market is a convenient distance from my apartment, about 2 city blocks. A few times a week, I walk over to see the freshest and newest veggies and fruit of the season. Over the years I’ve learned that one should follow what the locals are eating. In that way I eat fresh and high quality produce. Locals go to the market for their food supplies each day. But early morning isn’t usually the best time to get fresh things. It’s widely known that this produce is left overs from the day before, so later in the day is a good time to shop.
Skins of pomello are taken off the fruit by making regular cuts into the skin and then removing the fruit all in one go!
When I first began living in China the wet market was a scary place for me. The strange smells, so many completely foreign products and produce, different methods of doing daily business with no prices marked and the almost complete lack of cleanliness were overwhelming to me. Stacks of eggs of all kinds, shapes and sizes like small quail eggs, preserved duck eggs, and large ostrich eggs were daunting. I didn’t like buying eggs that weren’t refrigerated, or meat that was left out in the open, covered with flies, not to mention the animal parts hanging from hooks. Quite strange to me were the meats cut on chopping boards made from slices of tree trunks with a metal ring and two handles attached around the outside. But now it seems perfectly normal to me, maybe better than those plastic cutting boards we are all using these days!
Squabs or quails are cooked in turning roasting ovens and sold whole. The smells are enticing.
Getting used to the units of measurements was a bit difficult at first, but quickly I got to know the measures. Chinese foods are sold by the ‘jin’ which is 500 grams or a little over one pound and vendors will usually quote the price per jin. Smaller measures are ‘ke’ which is a gram, and ‘liang’, a tenth of a jin or 50 grams. And purchasing from the same vendors is to your benefit, building a relationship of trust and friendliness.
You won’t find fresh herbs at the local wet market; the closest thing you will find is cilantro and now in this southern climate I can buy fresh mint. I’ve got a new recipe for mint and green onion that I am looking forward to preparing, so that will likely be my next post. Cilantro is plentiful and a fantastic herb to use in dressings, sauces, soups and is added to all main dishes both for colour and splendid taste. Multiple varieties of garlic, ginger, and green onions also make cooking a real treat.
As time has gone on, I grown to love my trips to the market, even regularly trying new things that I’ve never eaten before. This local cake is sold by vendors on street corners. I’ve wanted to try it but felt I’d be getting too heavy a dose of dirt along with the cake so I never did. But the man sells his cake covered well and therefore the hygiene seemed better. The cake is sprinkled with sesame seeds…I love sesame seeds… and has the taste of a ginger/honey cake. A little on the dry side but nice just the same.
Now shopping at the local “wet” markets is always extremely rewarding. Not only are the financial rewards great, with the costs being low for locals, but it helps keep plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet. Shopping in the local wet market made me become aware of the economy and resources around me.
I’ve been told that there is a Kunming market that sells Gan Ba Jun or Dried Beef Mushrooms that have already been cleaned and sell for a very healthy sum. One day when I am really in ‘desperate need’ of the scrumptious taste, I’ll figure out where to go to get them, but buying that without being cleaned is not is the cards. I had bought one and half pounds of them for a party a while back and it took three of us 5 hours to clean them. So that’s not the kind of fun activity for me!
As promised, my recipe for Gan Ba Jun Wild Mushrooms:
Gan Ba Jun Mushrooms, Yunnan Style
½ cup oil (for some good reason, the Chinese insist on using a lot of oil for cooking wild mushrooms – I have yet to learn why)
8-10 long green chillies, sliced
1 pound gan ba jun wild mushroom pieces
½ teaspoon salt
Heat the wok, add the oil and heat the oil. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the chillies.
Add the mushrooms and cook over a medium to medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes, or until well cooked. Add the salt.
Dish up on a serving platter and eat with rice.
Local wet markets all across China have many similar things in common – they contain the basic things:
– local fresh vegetables and mushrooms
– fresh herbs including fresh chillies of all kinds
– local fresh fruit
– local loose, dried cooking supplies – beans, rice, flour, spices
– nuts and dried fruit
– local fresh noodles – rice, wheat, bean (picture below shows the bags of rice in the foreground and the freshly made rice noodles hanging vertically to dry in the background)
– fresh meat, poultry, and fish (sometimes refrigerated or frozen, most often neither)
– local fresh tofu – all varieties
– local varieties of pickled vegetables and sauces
– local dried, steamed, cooked, smoked meats
– fresh and potted flowers and plants
– tea of all kinds, including tea-making utensils and supplies
I like visiting local wet markets in a variety of areas of the city to see the differences in the produce on offer. A downtown market in the heart of the city had just those little differences to make it fun to be there.
Managing to get a great find, I stopped to watch a shop keeper serving some customers to see what they were buying. It was pork tenderloin, cooked and smoked. She gave me a little taste and I bought a piece at the far right in the picture.
She gave me a little bag of very spicy Sichuan pepper/salt but the meat was spicy enough for me already. I had that for lunch with some leftover Yang Zhou Fried Rice and slices of fresh cucumber.
Yum, I say!
Almost ready to leave, there they were – Yunnan Wild Mushrooms – calling me. I stopped to discuss the names and made myself the ‘foreign expert’ in wild mushrooms, which I am not. What made me the expert in her mind was that she had the few varieties that I remembered the Chinese names for and I didn’t hesitate to speak to her in Chinese.
Here is a seller who has wild mushroom varieties, most of which I don’t know their names or how to cook them so I don’t get sick. I buy the ones near the blue and white scale at the top left corner. I know those; they are porcini or Niu Gan Jun mushrooms and I’m going to have them for my dinner tonight.
Another seller and I have a long conversation. She tells me the name of the green ones and to be honest, I can’t remember it. But that green hue makes me nervous so I skip buying them. I don’t know exactly how to cook them properly.
This seller also has the Gan Ba Jun or Dried Beef Mushrooms and I know them well. I bought them several weeks ago at the Wild Mushroom City, YiMen. It’s interesting to see how they grow around/inside a bed of pine needles and that’s what makes them so hard to clean. They grow with the needles embedded inside the mushroom meat and you have to have the patience of a saint to clean the pine needles out of the mushrooms. Those are the ones that took three of us 5 hours to clean one an a half pounds…no thanks! They were delicious but nope, not for me.
When I cooked them for the party with a huge amount of green chillies, I can honestly say they were delicious but I can’t go through the cleaning process.
Recipe to follow another day, I promise.
One of the fathers came to my class for the first time and after we were almost done doing our lesson on vegetables at the local wet market here in my neighbourhood in Kunming, he bought us all a big bag of some kind of nut or seed, I thought it was some kind of pumpkin or sunflower seed…nope, I was wrong. It was pine nuts.
I haven’t seen them much in China but I have a favourite recipe for Broccoli, Cheese and Pine Nuts that I like to make to go with chicken – I can’t cook it much. Now I know what to look for, of course the time consuming part is getting the seeds out of the shell….not as easy as other seeds. I did a little research and these are Asian Pine Nuts either from Korea, Siberia or the Himalayans. And yes, there come from the pine cones of pine trees.