There is a seemingly ordinary vegetable market in Beijing. It is only 1,560 square meters and holds 130 stands distributed along each side of a 170-meter-long narrow passage.
Though small, the market gathers countless food materials, red wines and spices all over the world.
Thus it is called “the Unite Nations of fresh food”, where Chinese and foreign food lovers could find whatever ingredients they like.
What’s more, many of the items available at the market are difficult to be found elsewhere in Beijing, which makes gourmets regard it as their “place of pilgrimage”.
The market is as bustling as any other vegetable market, where foreign customers with different colors of skin and accents pick up and choose their favorite foods.
After a bargaining in mixed Chinese and English, stallholders figure out the prices and customers deftly click mobile phones to pay for them via WeChat or Alipay, two most popular mobile payments in China. It seems they are frequent visitors here.
In addition to a global flavor, the high popularity market is life-oriented, and down to earth, which may be its first impression to the new comers.
For gourmets, the market is a must of daily life.
Li Nan, a post 90s food lover, lives in Shilipu, Chaoyang district and is fond of cooking western dishes to entertain her friends at home.
It is not surprise that she has been a regular patron of the market. “You can buy anything here, as long as you could think of, ” she said.
Li Nan arrived at her familiar stands, holding a shopping list on which the items were basil, pepper, clary sage, majoram and chicken leg meat … These ingredients are used to make a western stew dish whose recipe Li Nan got from her Italian colleague the other day.
“They(Stallholders) told me to cook this dish with animal butter, which I have never thought of,” said Li Nan being astonished at stallholders’ understanding of the western cuisines in addition to that of food materials.
Besides knowledge about the western cuisines, the owners of No. 81 stand, Zhang Haibiao and Zhong Xiaoqin, also know something about western music and bar culture. Their western food ingredients shop is one of the most popular ones in this market.
One reason of their success is that the food materials’ ample categories, some of which can only be purchased at theirs.
Another reason may lie in the ever-increasing exchanges between China and foreign countries.
Back to 2001 when hearing the news that Beijing had won the bid for the 2008 Olympic Games, Zhang Haibiao keenly realized more and more foreigners would come to the Chinese capital and it would be a profitable business to supply food materials for them.
After many years’ development, now, Zhang Haibiao has operated several stands in the Market.
Sandra, German, is one of Zhang Haibiao’s targeted customers. She often comes to Beijing to visit her husband two or three times a year.
Sandra always likes to buy some seafood and fresh vegetables at the market to cook authentic German cuisines for her husband.
“I can buy almost all the food materials needed here. They are very fresh. Their prices are not high, especially the price of seafood which is lower than that in Germany,” said Sandra.
In Sandra’s opinion, families gather and enjoy a dinner cooked by desirable ingredients and seasonings could make her feel that they are in their hometown instead of a foreign land, even though the distance between Berlin and Beijing is more than 7,000 kilometers.
Sandra said she begins to like Chinese culture and cuisine since many times’ visits to Beijing, “I am trying my best to learn cooking Chinese dishes for my husband to have a change.”
Besides the rich food materials, another reason Sandra likes the market is that it is less than two kilometers away from her husband’s office, who works at the Chinese headquarters of a famous auto group now.
Where is the market?
The market is at Shunyuanli, Zuojiazhuang subdistrict, Chaoyang district. Its location is close to the most internationalized area in Beijing that covers Kunlun Hotel, Diplomatic Residence Compound of Liangmaqiao, as well as many foreign embassies in China.
The staff at foreign embassies in China were the mainstream customers of the market at the very beginning, and then followed by foreign employees working nearby, introduced Zhang Laixing, a duty manager of the market.
These customers had a higher demand for imported foods, which has driven the transformation and upgrading of the market.
“It was just a temporary road-side market without a shed over 30 years ago,” said Zhang Laixing. In 1992, the open air market was moved into a hall at its current site.
After many times’ upgrading during the following over 20 years, it has drawn more and more gourmets and its service scope has been far beyond that of a common vegetable market.
In addition, some film and TV stars’ frequent visits especially turns it into a pure and simple “online celebrity”.
The “online celebrity” market, not only has been driven by but also benefited from Beijing’s development.
It is Sanyuanli Market, a witness of China’s reform and opening up.