I’ve long been a big fan of food markets. Wondering what’s so irresistible about a bustling and chaotic market? The list could go on forever! Great local food goes without saying, but what I personally find more intriguing is the exotic atmosphere of those neighborhood markets.
As a city early to rise, Beijing comes into full swing with pandemonium kicking the day off well before 7am. A morning market offering locally grown and caught food is considered one of the centerpieces of traditional daily life, that defines the city with its rugged charms.
Tucked in the Third Ring of Chaoyang District near Worker’s Stadium, Chaowai Morning Market, much to our delight, survived the forced renovation which swept across the city in a bid to modernize the capital, and is still frequented by the city’s locals. The market only lasts a few hours from early morning to noon, with hardcore vendors pouring in at around 5am, even during the bone-cold weather days, getting their stalls set up ready to welcome early bird customers.
You will be greeted by yelling from vendors vying for business, and pulled into the excitement the moment you walk into the open-air market, which is lined with rows of stalls offering a broad selection of goods including various kinds of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, dried goods, hand-made noodles, and nuts, as well as household items and small trinkets, all with prices much lower than the average food store.
Further behind the market, there are a few vendors with snacks to whet your appetite, slowly stirring it as you walk along, as well as stalls selling clothing and shoes, with tailors sitting behind their sewing machines which are still operated by foot, others peddling local specialties, including freshly pressed sesame oil which smells so nice that you need to try really hard to just walk away without buying.
As you trek on past the rows of stalls, you’ll be welcomed by those friendly vendors asking you to have a bite of the fruit to prove its freshness, overhearing interested buyers commenting on the vegetable prices and bargaining with vendors, a lot of chit-chat between vendors, the odor of the food wafting around your nose… The atmosphere is actually very laid-back and cheerful, despite all the hustle and bustle.
Another fascinating aspect of the market is that it’s great for people watching—how they dress, how they interact with each other, what they buy to feed their family. You’ll end up getting a quirky and authentic cultural insight into people’s lives here, never mind those great photo opportunities!
The market is not usually frequented by the expat community, so be prepared that your foreignness might stand out among the local customers. Take it as your best chance to chat and practice the language; believe me, most people would love it if you try to speak Chinese with them, even if you can only say a few words.
Still haven’t experienced the hidden delights of food markets? Come poke your nose around at Chaowai Morning Market, to have an extraordinary morning!
Chaowai Morning Market
Daily 5am-noon. Gongti Nanlu, Chaoyang district 朝阳区工人体育场南路朝外地区便民早市