The process in the supermarkets in China is also a bit different, and standards of cleanliness very much so. Still, I’ve lived off of Chinese supermarkets for 5 years, and it’s really not that difficult. Here are a few of the more interesting aspects:
I remember when I first got to Zhuhai in 2008. I went into a supermarket to buy apples. I proceeded to fill up my little plastic bag and went to the checkout aisle. When it was my turn the woman couldn’t help me. You see, you have to have all of your fruits and vegetables weighed and priced in that section of the supermarket. They have people who stand there all day and do that. This was not something I had seen before, but it’s not a bad idea when you think about it.
Supermarkets in China will have meats just sitting out. The larger ones will have meats in plastic wrap like you’re used to in the US. They’ll also have stuff just sitting out in the display case, and sometimes just on a big table covered with ice. There’s also a person who weighs your meat or cuts it up for you. They’ll also have some interesting things, like whole pig legs with the hoof still attached. Full chickens with the head and feet are common. And I’ve seen hearts in plastic wrap.
Fish are in tanks and you can tell the man to take out one for you. He’ll proceed to mash it on the floor or hit it with a hammer or mallet to kill it, then he’ll gut it and cut it up for you. You can also buy frogs, turtles, and eels.
You won’t see nearly as much junk food in supermarkets in China as you do in America. There they have aisles of the stuff; in China just a few small shelves. You can get potato chips, but just a few brands that will be appealing to you. They have a lot of rice cakes, as well as Oreos. Snickers is really the only chocolate bar you’ll find, so you better get used to those. Gum is quite popular and they’ve got tons of varieties. Ice cream is also popular, but you’ll only find about 5 to 10 flavors.
Rice is in a special area, and you have two choices. You can take a large bag, or fill up a plastic bag from a big bin of rice. There will be about 4 different kinds of rice that you can fill up with, or about 20 that are in bags already. In the summer months much of the non-bagged rice will get little bugs in it. These will die when you steam the rice, so don’t worry about it too much. I usually just switch to the bagged stuff as it gets warmer out. A rice cooker will run you about 100 yuan, and everyone has one. People eat rice everyday, sometimes several times a day. You’ll only find white rice though, so say goodbye to brown rice.