Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Real Tai Tai of Shanghai Post One: Grocery Shopping

Thanks to a small holiday called Chinese New Year, I will have five weeks of unpaid vacation from mid-January to mid-Febuary.  Luckily, I am a taitai, aka a housewife with a husband who has a steady income, so for the next few weeks this blog should be a little more active than before.

One chore a taitai must master is the art of grocery shopping.  Grocery shopping is an adventure for many foreigners in China, including myself.  Truth be told, I have neared many foreign produce/packaging induced nervous breakdowns on some of my grocery shopping trips.   

My first morning as an official Chinese resident, Chris and I headed down to the wet market a half block from our apartment.  

Welcome to the wet market!
What a culinary awakening…
I am still unsure how to use a dried chicken.

Ropes of sausage hang from the ceiling!

The produce is beautiful, but before I moved to China I had never seen half of the items.

Lychee fruit is so yummy!  It tastes like a cross between a grape and a cherry.  Peel the outside and then eat the inside.

Dragon fruit tastes like kiwi. Good stuff!

Many times eggs aren't refrigerated and come in a variety of colors.  I don't now how they are safe...

A butcher shows off his slab of pork.

So much fresh seafood!

Another fish butcher on the job. 

I would not even know how to start cooking these fish.

The first morning we visited the market, fish frequently flipped out of their tubs.


After a shocking welcome, we quickly realized we needed to find a grocery store…rather quickly.   So we walked down the street to find Jiadeli Market.  We knew we could get more items here than at the wet market.  However we still had a ton of questions about what we saw.

Welcome to Jiadeli!

Milk in a box is a popular beverage.  How can they keep milk unrefrigerated is beyond me.  Apparently it has a long shelf life...
These massive bags of rice cost about $10 USD.  One bag lasts quite a long time.  There are so many different kinds of was a challenge to select one. :)

So much oil!  

How can they carry so many different kinds of soy sauce, but not any Hidden Valley Ranch?  This and many other similar thoughts would bring me nearly to tears when I first started grocery shopping.

There is plenty of Ramen to go around, but selecting a flavor is tricky.  All of the packages are in Chinese so I rely on pictures.  Needless to say, I have eaten some strange flavors of noodles!

There are also many different flavors of potato chips or crisps.  The cucumber flavored chips were tasty, but I had a mild allergic reaction to the lobster and cheese flavored chips.  
One of our friends in the US told us about a French hypermarket called Carrefour that carried all kinds of imported foods and wines, so we went there to stock up our “American Sized” fridge.  While Carrefour had significantly more groceries, I still was confused by many of the foods, especially those in the produce section.

Carrefour at last!

Carrefour is great for impulse purchases, like these special Chinese New Year strawberry flavored Oreos.  They aren't too bad.

Carrefour parks salespeople with mic packs all over the store to try to convince you to buy special items.    This makes for a noisy shopping experience.

Many of the Hypermarts are multiple stories high, so they have cart friendly escalators.  Be aware of the future impulse purchases on the sides of the handrails.

What is this stuff and how do I cook it???

What are these?  Do I boil them?  Eat them raw?  Help!
It's red and poky...every instinct in me screams poison!!! Don't eat it!!!

This aisle makes me cry!!!  All I want is some decent Old El Paso seasoning or brown gravy mix!  AUGH!  How many different types of soy sauce does one need???

Fish heads are popular in soup.  

How does one cook a frog?

No, this is not a pet store.  You can select your dinner from the tank.

Carrefour sells fresh meat parts thrown in open air bins.  The smell is indescribable.

This man picked up every pig hoof in the bin and tapped each on the side of the plexiglass. I wish I  had the Chinese vocabulary to ask him why he was banging the pork on the bin.

Luckily, we hired an Ayi who does our grocery shopping and cooks our food, so Chris and I would not starve.  A couple of days after Ayi started, strange foods started appearing in our fridge.  All of her food had been good to this point, so I decided to ignore the foods and let her work her magic.

This is a typical Ayi cooked meal.  Tonight I will be eating chicken with cauliflower, pork with green beans, sauteed bok choy, and rice.  Her food is yummy and healthy!

We leave Ayi money.  She shops, cooks the food and does the dishes.  Each of her meals cost us around $10.  If I tried to do the same it would cost three times that!   She is truly magical!!

A month or two later, I was walking through the Dapuqiao subway station when I stumbled upon City Shop!  Finally I found a western grocery store that identifies fruits and vegetables in English!!!  Words could not express how excited I was to buy meat that had been butchered and wrapped in a Styrofoam container!!!  Life was good!

Welcome to my grocery store!

They even carry cheese, and sour cream!!!  This was a HUGE find for me!  I am a cheesaholic...
Fresh Milk!  Mind you, it costs about $4 for a pint. cool temperatures...EXCELLENT!

They even carry Lean Cuisine!

One of the drawbacks of shopping here is imported food gets a little pricey.  For example, this can of tomato soup is $4.  But if you are jonesing for grilled cheese and tomato soup, it is a great investment!
Another drawback of purchasing imported food is the Chinese Government sticks their health information stickers over the cooking instructions of the boxes.  I am embarrassed to say that I have had to make Google searches like "How to Make Betty Crocker Au Gratin Potatoes."

What makes City Shop my personal grocery store of choice is that I can order groceries online that are delivered for free if I spend 400RMB ($65).  It is nice to be able to grocery shop in your PJs. 

Just when I thought grocery shopping could not get any fancier, Chris and I went to City Super, located in the basement of Lujazui.   What a lah tee dah grocery shopping experience!  I have never been to a grocery store that has every gourmet food known to man categorized by country, and a Le Cruset purchasing center. 

Welcome to the classiest grocery store on earth!

Real princesses will feed you Almond Roca candy!

On the weekends, many alcohol distributors will be out in full force at the grocery stores giving free samples!  What a way to pre-party!

Gan Bei!

Look at all of the CHEESE!!!!!  Yum!!!
Even though City Super! is super fancy and super stocked, there are still some things that you may not be able to find in China.  Luckily, Santa Claus and my mom have shipped me some of my kitchen staples so on the rare occasion that I do cook I am set.  If you are moving to China, I highly recommend that you import the following kitchen items:

Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing mix  (or any other salad dressing mix you may want).
Brown gravy mix
Sweet and Low/ Equal/ Splenda  (They sell Equal here, but it is not quite the same.)
Any spices that you can’t live without (One can find many spices here, but it is better to be safe than sorry).
If you are loyal to a particular brand of bbq sauce, import it.
Measuring cups and spoons.  (It took us 6 months to find ours.)
Metal baking sheets (if you own an oven)
A slow cooker with a power converter (If that is your thing)

Bon Apetit!!!