How to Get the Most Out of Your Local Wet Market

By Matthew Bossons, January 12, 2017

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Wet markets are a major part of culinary exploration while living in China. They house vegetables, fruits, spices, fungi and all manner of living and deceased creatures – from snakes, toads and scorpions to more traditional livestock (from a Western perspective anyway) like chickens and pigs.

Venturing into your local wet market can be an overwhelming task; hell, the smell alone is overwhelming most of the time. To help you get the most out of your next local open-air food market experience, we have come up with some handy advice.

1. Wear shoes you don’t care about

Dirty shoes
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If you have ever visited a wet market, you will know the floor is generally wet, more often than not with chicken or turtle or whatever blood. In our frog-shopping escapades, our editors have ruined more than one pair of suede shoes, so our advice to you is to toss on footwear you aren’t overly passionate about. 

2. Breathe through your mouth

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This may sound like silly advice, but wet markets stink – simple as that. Any place where chickens, ducks, frogs and snakes are defecating, urinating and bleeding is bound not to smell too pleasant.  

3. Go early

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Yah, we don’t want to get out of bed early either, but remember: the early bird gets the worm. While some wet markets will replenish their stock throughout the day, many look pretty sparse by the late afternoon. To avoid disappointment – or leaving with a mushy onion – visit between 7-10am.

4. Check multiple stalls

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Most, if not all wet markets, will have numerous stalls selling the same products. Our advice is to shop around, particularly as a foreigner, before making a purchase. You may find tomatoes are cheaper at one vendor over another. 

5. Bargain 

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Like most markets in China, don't be afraid to bargain to get a better price. Although some vendors may be unwilling to haggle, others are more than happy to knock a couple RMB off your cow tongue purchase.

6. Know the Chinese words for the products you're buying

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Knowing how to say tudou (potato) won’t be essential every time you visit the market, because, you know, many of the products are laid out in the open to browse. That being said, knowing the Chinese names for various fruits, vegetables and meats will (a) earn you cool points and (b) make life easier if you can’t find something. Learning food-related phrases, like zhege xin bu xinxian (is this fresh?), will also come in handy when checking food quality.

7. Learn which foodstuffs are in season

How to Get the Most Out of Your Local Wet Market
Image via Pexels

Looking for a mango in February at your local wet market? You may find you're out of luck. Star fruit in July? Same story. Learn the seasons that your favorite fruits, veggies and seafood products are available. (Because you’re probably wondering, in most places in China star fruit is in season from September to April, and mangos are generally available from June to August.)

8. Produce with bug bite marks isn’t actually bad

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Fruits and veggies that have visible insect chomp marks are less likely to have been sprayed with heavy pesticides. So, if you are looking for food that’s not laced with chemicals, opt for the bug-chowed goods. 

9. Wash your hands after visiting

Wash hands
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Wet markets have birds. Birds carry avian flu. Markets are considered a major source of H7N9 infections in humans. Avian flu can kill you. So, remember to wash your hands.

[Top image by That's]

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