by Melanie Schubert
I love local wet markets!
They have always attracted me a lot. Whenever I traveled to foreign places I enjoyed visiting these places packed with all kinds of exotic fruits, spices and smelling of freshly prepared dishes. Places fulfilled with local chit chat and bargain.
When I first came to China I felt the same. I was amazed by the sheer eye-widening variety of offered ingredients which of half of them I didn’t have any clue what it actually was. From that time on it was my dream to one time go there and really dig into this food paradise by being able to have at least a rough idea about all the local specialties and being able to communicate with the vendors.
I moved to Shanghai, lived here for almost four years and kind of completely forgot about that idea. I of course occasionally dropped by at the wet market but just sticking to the ordinary stuff which I knew from home. So buying potatoes, carrots or apples at the wet market cannot be counted as extraordinary experience. Even with already being able to rake a lot of praise from the local vendors for my communication attempts in Chinese.
It all changed at the time when I found at that I am suffering from a Gluten-Sensitivity. I have actually before somehow realized that living in China has improved my overall health condition. Which will sound crazy to most of the foreigners living in China as considering the quite serious air pollution we are confronted with every day. And which should make you suspect bad impacts on your health. It wasn’t. My frequent headaches disappeared as well as the overabundant gas in my gut, I felt mentally more stable and happy. At that time I just addressed the more healthy Chinese diet which I was really fond of to be the reason.
Now after knowing Gluten and milk proteinbeing the trigger of these as well as a few further symptoms I try to completely eliminate them from my diet. At this point maybe let me first give you some short explanation for people who might haven’t heard about gluten yet: It’s a protein which is primarily found in wheat but also in other cereals as rye and barley. Exactly! That might be not the easiest ingredient to stroke off your diet. So I sat down doing a lot of research about that food allergies itself and how to substitute its triggers. And despite many foreigners complaining that it is so difficult to find sufficient substitutes in China I found it fortunate to conduct this dietary change while living in China.*
Right – the first advantage is that traditional Chinese diet is not primarily based on this ingredients. Rice is ubiquitous and it is not difficult to find a meal with rice instead of bread or pasta as the basis. Milk products can’t be found on any Chinese menu at all. But what if you cannot only live on a Chinese diet? Pictures of pizzas floating around in your mind, unstoppable appetite for a sandwich? You can start to get active yourself and swirl off your kitchen’s dust. If I imagine myself in this situation back in Germany I see myself spending hours in specialized food stores in order to root out appropriate substitutes and spending fortunes of money on it.
No need to do so in China. Just drop by at your local wet market and you will only leave it with bags full of exciting new ingredients. Why not start to bake your own bread out of black rice, millet or sorghum flour? Pizza dough made of corn flour? And have you ever tried to create your pizza’s mozzarella from Cashew nuts? Of course the taste will not exactly match the original, but could be even more delicious. I was never a big pudding fan, but that was before I tasted puddings made of almond or coconut milk. And wouldn’t be now a good time to finally try to make the soup out of sweet potatoes?
Preparing all these delicacies finally pushes me to experience the full variety Chinese local markets can offer. And being able to communicate them. Or would you know how to say buckwheat flour in Chinese?
* I am only talking here about Gluten Sensitivity, not Celiac disease. Celiac disease is a much more severe condition which requires an even higher level of caution when it comes to choosing your daily food.