The markets in Beijing are alive with color, smells, sounds, people and interesting things to taste and touch. From worry beads and fake Gucci purses to fresh lotus root and chicken feet, there’s a market for just about everything.
The one I frequent most often resembles a farmers market, with fresh produce and dry goods like rice, tea and spices. The quality is high and the prices are low.
If you need some clothes hemmed, or a plunger for the sink, you can find that here too.
There’s even a place to buy pink panties and lucky red underwear. I wish I could shop here everyday.
Another place I love to visit is the flower market.
The market itself used to be huge, taking up almost a whole city block with flower vendors. The government closed it recently, citing the need to use the building for something else. Fortunately a number of vendors have relocated to a building next door, so I can still get my orchid fix.
They also sell house plants, baby turtles and little furry pets.
And then there are several antique markets which are a great place to find some funky decorations like porcelain vases and cricket cages.
Or get a glimpse into China’s past with Mao-era paraphernalia
Some items are painful reminders of how things used to be, like these doll-sized slippers worn by women who had their feet bound.
These are about 3- inches long from the chunky heel to the tip of the pointy toe. For hundreds of years Chinese women endured the painful practice of foot-binding to shape their feet into “golden lotuses” which increased their value as a potential bride. The practice was outlawed in the early 1900s.
The hotel and restaurant market is the place to go for small kitchen appliances, bedding, silverware and dishes.
I went there shortly after we arrived, looking for a serrated bread knife. I can easily find crusty baguettes and hearty sourdough boules in specialty shops but finding a way to cut them was problematic. The Chinese cleaver that came with my apartment wasn’t going to cut it. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).
This is when I learned that cooking knives are regulated items, kind of like buying a weapon. You might be able to waltz into Wal-Mart in the US and buy a firearm, but at Wal-Mart in Beijing you’ll be lucky to find a butter knife. I raised deep suspicion and a few eyebrows when I asked to buy a knife at the hotel market. Stores that do sell knives, like Ikea, will require you to show ID. And getting home? Forget about taking the subway because it won’t pass security.
Visiting Beijing’s markets is a culinary experience, a lesson in history, a taste of the language and a window into Chinese culture all rolled into one. It’s one thing I know I’ll miss when our time in Beijing comes to an end.