After a few years living in China, most things that amazed/annoyed me during my first months here are now normal events in my life and I don’t think about them too much: kids yelling “hallo”, people staring at me, spending Saturday nights in the karaoke, crowded subways, crazy traffic, Chinese people insisting on speaking English to me even though I reply in Chinese, the parallel universe buzzling with activity that are Chinese parks…
But there is one daily activity that still feels tremendously exciting: going to the supermarket.
My Shanghai-based friend Y. hates going to the supermarket so she orders all of her groceries online and has them delivered home. While this is very convenient and I have sometimes done it (mainly when I was working), I prefer going to the supermarket, walking along every aisle, looking at all the products on display. touching everything and comparing prices before finally making my mind up.
C. is not very happy about this. He doesn’t like crowded places and supermarkets are invariably full of people, specially during weekends. So when I go with him, I try to get everything as fast as I can. If I go alone, I will take my time.
There are several supermarkets in our area. Some of them are pretty Chinese but we also have a couple of imported foods supermarkets (expensive, of course!). The closest biggest supermarket is Auchan, called 欧尚 oushang in Chinese. A few weeks ago I went there in the morning, so it wouldn’t be too crowded, and wandered around for a couple of hours, mainly taking pictures with my phone. Because there are a lot of weird and amazing things in Chinese supermarkets.
– Dozens of different flavours for instant noodles
I think I had eaten instant noodles a couple of times before coming to China. Spanish people don’t eat them frequently (I’d say only poor students would try them), but they can be found in supermarkets, although the variety is not great. In China, instant noodles are a must when you are a student and don’t have money to buy better food (or you prefer spending it on other things, like alcohol and cigarrettes). Instant noodles are also widely eaten when you are traveling, specially during train journeys. In this supermarket there is a whole aisle full of different brands and flavours, ranging from spicy beef to seafood.
– Fish, seafood and other aquatic species are kept alive
In Spain, we mainly eat fish from the sea and it is dead and kept on ice in supermarkets. In China they like their fish alive and kickin’. And not only fish: shrimps, toads, turtles… I think you can choose to have your purchase killed and cut or do it yourself at home (I’m not sure because I’ve never bought anything alive).
– Amazing variety of feminine hygiene products
In Spain we have at most 4 or 5 different brands of sanitary pads. In China you can choose between literally hundreds of them. There is a Hello Kitty brand. And another with mentholated pads. On the contrary, tampons are not widely used by Chinese girls so usually only one brand can be found (although I’ve started seeing a couple of new brands in Suzhou).
– Dried everything
Chinese people love munching dried stuff: fish, squid, meat, fruits… Basically anything can be dried and sold in supermarkets!
– Rice in bulk
Chinese people eat a lot of rice, so the bags for sale in supermarkets are huge. If you don’t eat much rice, your only option is to buy imported ones in smaller packages (expensive!) or buy in bulk whatever amount you need. The downside to this is that probably everyone in the supermarket has touched your rice: people love sinking their hands in the containers!
– The latest fashion
Well, I guess this happens everywhere: the clothes sold at supermarkets aren’t usually too pretty. But Chinese swimsuits are so ugly they would deserve a blog post of their own (and I would tell the story of how I ended up buying one, haha).
There are many more things I didn’t take pictures of. The crazy flavours of potato chips (lobster, cucumber, lima, Italian beef…), the thousands of different cookies, the glass jars with strange sauces I’ve never tried, the cooking oils made from many different things (in Spain we just use olive and sunflower oil)… I discover new things with every visit to the supermarket!
What about you? Do you like going to buy groceries in person or do you prefer buying everything online? If you have lived in more than one country, do you find supermarkets very different in each place?