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On Your Mark, Get Set: Springing to the Wet Market

2011 May 3

by Jessie Chien

There has been great talk of Spring on RecipeRelay lately - the anticipation, the nearing, and the inevitable slight delay. Where I live in Guangzhou, in Southern China, Spring is a different beast entirely. The weather started warming in February, and was followed by a thick cloud of humidity that settled over the city this past week (it’s barely May!).  It’s my first year living in China, and as I am adjusting to the changes in weather, I am also adjusting to the changes (and challenges) at the market.

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At the wet market that is a 15 minute walk from my house, I’ve noticed a turnover of the heartier vegetables that once dominated the market aisles during the South China “winter”- onions, daikon, corn, eggplant, lotus roots, burdock root, apples and carrots have been replaced by stacks of leafy greens (some of which I am still unable name - in English, Chinese, or otherwise), along with peppers, peas, slender eggplants, guavas, and more varieties from the onion/leek family than I can count.  No matter where you are, a shift in season gives birth to exciting possibilities in the kitchen.

Surprisingly, Chitra’s Indian Style Shakshuka provided me with a list of ingredients that I could easily play off. I zeroed in on the cilantro – the lone familiar herb among rows and rows of unidentifiable leafy greens at the wet market. I would build a recipe from the top down, starting with a cilantro-based dressing.

I had half a carton of fennel in the fridge, leftover from a trip to our Costco-like warehouse store, Metro. Metro is a safe source for meat and produce and carries items that I am not able to find at my neighborhood wet market, but at double the quantity than I would typically buy.  Many vegetables at Metro are distributed by a company called StarFarms, which doesn’t boast Organic certification but does provide sustainability and traceability information.  StarFarms’ packaging is labeled with a barcode which consumers can enter on their website and view information about the origin of the items sitting in the kitchen. So, with a few clicks of my mouse, I can see the name of the farm that my fennel comes from, how it was cultivated, the date of harvest, and how far it has traveled.  It’s a super neat practice that brings the consumer closer to the food that is being consumed.

Ultimately, I also could not ignore the ginger in Chitra’s dish, it was a no-brainer to create a fresh, ginger-cilantro dressed Chinese cabbage, watercress, and fennel salad - a perfect counterpoint to the recent bout of humid 90 degree weather. My dish is shaping up to be Asian inspired, while remaining true to my California roots and the sense of sustainability I gained while living in New York.

Another star ingredient presented itself to me on a second trip to the wet market that fulfilled the need for protein in this dish- but I’ll wait until Thursday to reveal it, along with the full recipe!

Jessie dares for you to see where her fennel came from- Link to the Traceability Index on and paste the barcode: 11042216604102001


  • Megan

    Can’t wait to see the full recipe!