The changing face of Chengdu’s seasonal markets
Chengdu is famous for its food, but you might not realize it is also famous for its produce. The moniker, “Tian Fu’ which you see around the city means “land of plenty’, and it truly is. The climatic conditions in the Sichuan basin make for an incredible agricultural capacity and growing seasons throughout the year. The Sichuan basin is able to provide a wide variety of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs in each season and local people naturally, eat what’s in season. Local, seasonal ingredients will be cheaper and taste better than imported counter-parts, and so this is more a way of life than part of some new-found trend.
The array of fresh produce changes season to season, and in some cases week to week depending on what it is available and what is the freshest. The local wet markets have a rotating cast of vendors, and hawkers who cling to their fringes with fresh produce and sometimes foraged greens from the agricultural suburbs of the city.
If you can’t make it to Chengdu, we will walk you through some of the best spring-time ingredients that are filling (and quickly disappearing from) the local markets of the city.
Chun Ya are the budding leaves of the Chinese Toon tree. Their Chinese name literally means spring buds (or sprouts) and not only are they only available in the spring they too represent the turning of the seasons. They are oniony in flavor with a nice crunch, and most commonly fried into an omelette.
Here a vendor displays an array of seasonal greens including rapini, young cabbages, qingtou vegetables and the leaves of a variety of members of the brassica family.
While smoked, dried and rehydrated bamboo shoots grace the tables of the market all year round, the young, tender ‘spring bamboo’ shoots begin to emerge around the beginning of April.
A packet of ‘licorice mint’ or giant hyssop, known in Chinese as Huo Xiang (藿香) sits beside a tank of fish. This incredible minty herb is used here (almost exclusively) in cooking fish, but it also makes for a pretty awesome variation on a classic mojito. Even one made with cherry baijiu.
Wild fiddle-heads made a brief appearance in the markets at the beginning of April. As they are not usually commercially cultivated they only last in the market for around a week. Similarly, if you catch the right timing you can get fresh fennel greens for a short period of time in spring each year.
The Sichuan basin also produces an incredible amount of fruit, and spring time is strawberry season! The southern reaches of Sichuan are also sub-tropical and areas like Panzhihua produce everything from bananas to mangoes.
We explore a wet market on all of our urban experiences to see the seasonal selection of produce and learn about the city’s connection to its food sources.