China has some pretty great outdoor markets. In a small city like Haiyang, there are multiple ones to choose from during any given week. One might be small with only a couple of stands selling fruits and vegetables. Others are bigger and offer more products and selection. These are known as lunar markets and are held every five days. We happened upon one this past weekend.
As you know, our expat village is out in the boonies, but on Saturdays the company my husband works for provides a shuttle into downtown Haiyang. On Saturday’s drive there, our driver pointed out the aforementioned lunar market. It was easy to tell there was something happening in the direction he pointed to given the hordes of bag-carrying people streaming out of a little side street off the main drag. Cars and bikes were randomly parked near said side street. The driver told us that the market offered an array of goods, which is typical of the lunar markets. So after we did some errands, we hit up the market with some of my husband’s co-workers and the driver as our market tour guide. Need some new kicks? They had ’em. How ’bout a new belt? Take your pick. Prefer to buy your tobacco freshly cut and dried? No problem, you’ve come to the right place.
And let’s not leave out food. Whole Foods eat your heart out and take a lesson from the Chinese (especially when it comes to pricing). Want some super fresh produce? Done and done. Need a resupply of your spices? Go ahead and scoop whatever kind you need out of a sack or have them freshly ground in front of your very eyes. Been looking for another jar of freshly pressed sesame oil? Yes, please, and you won’t even get charged extra for the delicious smell of it permeating the air. Having a snack attack? The lunar market’s got you covered. We sampled a delicious, sweet Chinese concoction of fried sticky dough. I wish I knew what kind of dough we were eating. On looks alone, it resembled a thick slice of french toast, but its taste (fairly bland) and texture (gooey chewy elasticity) did not. What really made this dough such a tasty treat was the sugar it was topped off with — a mix between the usual white granulated stuff and powdered sugar. The dough was cooked for a few minutes on each side on a large, circular black griddle and, of course, in a healthy bath of oil (this is China, after all).
We only wanted to buy one piece, but apparently when you order one of anything at a Chinese market, you are ordering one kilogram of it. Note to self, but in the end, that was fine by us. The vendor used a spatula to dump three pieces of dough in a plastic bag and poured the sugar on top. As soon as I took the bag, I felt the warmth and grease of the fried dough in my hand and dove in, followed by my husband. For 3RMB (about $.50), we were some satisfied customers, even if we were left with greasy, sticky fingers.
In a sick way, this wasn’t the only highlight of the lunar market for me. The market, like most good markets, had a row of meat vendors. Truth be told, I avoid even the most sanitized meat sections in grocery stores back home. Looking at raw meat grosses me out and for this and a variety of other reasons, I don’t eat meat. But, seeing that we’re in China, I had to take a stroll through the meat vendors, which just so happened to be located near the entrance of the market, right after the pet buying area. Ironic? You decide.
Anyways, there were plenty of meat options to choose from. There was chicken, pig, and cow. Pretty typical stuff, even the duck being sold wasn’t too bizarre (for the record and for no other reason than I like the taste, I’ve been known to eat duck from time to time). But these vendors weren’t letting any part of the animals being sold go to waste. In addition to the usual cuts of pork and beef, you could also buy the respective animal’s head (see photos below). Most shocking to this American — though perhaps not to any Brits or Irish who happen to come across this post — one could even purchase horse meat, not to mention horse head, with some fur still left on its snout. For the truly adventurous (and in my opinion heartless), a foal was also available for purchase for a mere 300RMB. In other words, for $48 you could find yourself the proud owner of a little pony. If you aren’t squeamish, the last photo below provides proof of this. As the photos clearly show, this market would not have passed any type of food inspection back in the states. There was no refrigeration in sight and the meat was haphazardly displayed — not packaged up all nice and pretty. Animal heads and body parts were simply strung up on metal hooks, piled up in plastic buckets, or strewn on the cold, bare concrete ground. I wonder if the whole farm to table movement would’ve taken off so quickly back home if this was how people had to purchase their meat?