Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 7 - Part I - Hutong; the Market

Today was the day Tavin and I went for a guided tour of an everyday market in a Hutong. 
Thank you Sophia!

            What, you ask, is a Hutong?  Quickly, they are the traditional local communities that used to make up Beijing (and I suspect most urban centers throughout China).  Each one has many houses, connected wall to wall.  Courtyards within the walls, small streets for travelling between.  Along with the houses, they are inhabited with small specialty shops and a central market for daily shopping.

The Hutong
Excellent place to learn about
all things Beijing - old and new

Tavin and I were instructed to arrive at this particular house at 9am sharp.  It turned out to be a welcoming hangout for both visitors and Ex-Pats of all sorts.  Due to the vagaries of subway and sidewalk travel, paired with finding our way to somewhere we had never been, we gave ourselves plenty of time. 

This is when I also learned many houses, even now, in the Beijing Hutong have only a cold running tap, and are not plumbed for sewage. 

What's a chamber pot?
Oh, you modern kids.

Since Murphy’s Law was intact, we arrived 20 minutes early.  And we found the ‘neighborhood’ toilet.  We got to see part of the parade of the locals going into the toilet (which was a modern flush facility – though squat only) to empty their plastic chamber pots.  


Sophia greeted us with tea, and since it was plenty chilly, we held it and drank it gratefully.  As I had mentioned earlier, Late January is the slow tourist season, for so many reasons.  Result?  Tavin and I were the only Tourists.  Loved It!  
I discovered that a childhood in the Seattle area, particularly wandering Uwajimaya and Pike Place market had prepared me well for the offerings of a northern Chinese Market.  Watching a *few* hours of Iron Chef (both versions) didn't hurt either.
            Why specify “Northern” Chinese?  Well, you go south, and things get tropical, and that is NOT what a PNW girl knows.  Further, there is a greater use of dairy, dried lentils and beans, wheat, millet and other grains in addition to rice.  This made for much more I could identify or guess at intelligently.

When you look at this - remember, this is LATE JANUARY, and it is literally Freezing Cold outside.  This *whole market* is about the size of your local large grocery store's produce department - or a big 7-11.  The variety of Fresh Food is staggering!  The prepared food is tofu, cleaned fish, bread & pickles.  The only packaged food are some spices and yogurt.
While we may turn our nose up at a country/world wide food-o-sphere, I think that's just because we (the US) has gone the wrong way with it. 

OK, just look:

Tofu - noodles, sheets, smoked,
frozen, stinky, fried
and regular
Clockwise from top left corner - cilantro w/ roots
mushrooms, Anaheim-type chili pepper,
cucumber (with blossoms so you know it is fresh)
& turnip

L to R: Potatoes, garlic scapes,
lotus root, summer squash, cauliflower
L to R: Enormous radishes, turnips,
long radishes & carrots

L to R: lotus roots, lettuce roots &
daikon (roots).
Mushroom-a-rama, pea pods & celery

Clockwise from 12:
Iceberg lettuce (really!) globe eggplant,
summer squash, tomatoes, daikon,
shitake mushrooms, lotus root,
Japanese eggplant, carrots,
potatoes & onions 
L to R: garlic scapes, cucumbers (again
blossoms as freshness measure)
lettuce roots, leeks.
All this produce in Feb - while freezing outside?
greenhouses & transport are important in China

The deli hot-case:
all manner of barbecue, sausages
and braised, spiced meats.  Don't miss the
4 preps of chicken feet; steamed, fried,
curry spice & barbecue
Basically a Chinese antipasto bar:
all sorts of pickled and spiced veg, tofu
mushrooms, noodles and salads 
Noodles - bottom left
savory donuts, toast, sesame cakes and
chili fried peanuts in the pan

Fried bread, steamed bread (hum-bao!)
and an egg sandwich!
See you can get a sandwich in China,
You just need to know where to look.

Top to bottom:
lentils, beans,
beans, rice & millet
more beans and grains - including
chick peas, black beans &
black rice in the bottom row.

2 millet-y grains
Chicken parts, chicken
& the infamous Black Chicken
(better for its broth than its meat I have been told)
Clockwise from top left:
pork kidneys, pork ankles,
pork bellies, ?,
chicken wings, breasts,
drumsticks, chicken feet,
pork livers

Fresh chicken (brown & white),
preserved chicken
duck & quail

Pickled everything!
bamboo shoots, lettuce, mushrooms
eggplants, cabbage &
strange tuber-y things
All sorts of spicy pickles - garlic,
chilis, tofu, veg & ????

Seafood!  fish, squids
& bamboo shoots...
Fresh frogs! Live inna tank.

Dried chilis, chili flakes
pepper corns & whole star anise
Dried mushrooms, roots
nutmegs (w/ & w/out mace)
& lots of stuff I don't recognize.

At last Tavin and I got our hands on the (so far) fabled excellent drinking yogurt of Beijing.  And it was good.  Milky, and tart with a hint of sweetness (traditionally honey).  The fun bit was, as tourists, they want you to drink it RIGHT THERE, as they are expecting those nice porcelain jars back.  A local could take a few home, but we had to drink the yogurt all up, and leave them in the bin with the other empties.

This is the market within walking distance of a HUGE number of people.  Americans have gas station convenience stores or 7-11's serving this purpose.  A TOTALLY different view of feeding ourselves.  I can't say more.  

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