Only the Best

By Sharon Raccah 2019-06-04 15:43:01

Moving to a foreign country can present many challenges, not the least of which is knowing where to buy healthy, fresh food. Especially if you’ve just arrived in China, this challenge might feel a bit overwhelming to you. How do you know where to buy safe, healthy food for yourself and your family? Some of you who have been here longer may have already figured out the whole healthy food thing in China, but I’ve met many others who have simply given up or who have become overly paranoid about the whole situation.

Having been here for 15 years, I can attest to all of the above. But the truth is that the food concerns in China are the same as pretty much everywhere else in the world. If you follow US news, for example, you’ll have gotten an earful about Monsanto, GMO, and pesticides. Every country has their fair share of food scandals and every food conscious individual has the same concerns that follow them wherever they go in the upheaval of expat life. 

‘Are there pesticides or chemicals in my vegetables? Are there hormones in the meat? Where is the fish from? From farms? If they’re not farmed, do they come from clean water? What about the chicken? And the fruit?’ These are all questions that plague us as we seek to eat healthy and to feed our family good food.

Though these problems exist everywhere, China presents a unique challenge in the form of a pretty hefty language barrier. Reading labels is difficult, and most of us don’t really understand what’s in a package or where the product comes from. If you don’t speak the language, asking the shop owner is out of the question as well. 

Throughout my time in Shanghai, I’ve heard plenty of health and food concerns and have encountered a few of my own. In this article, I’ve put together a set of tips that address these main concerns. I hope you find them as useful as I do for my own family! 


Be careful of where you buy your groceries

Always be picky about where you buy your groceries, especially when you buy fish, cheese, chicken, or eggs. Some markets might receive a frozen package of chicken and defrost it to sell it as a “fresh” product. Then when you go home you might freeze the chicken again. This process of freezing, defrosting, and freezing again is not healthy. Some might sell organic fruits and vegetables and others might sell GMO produce, or others might sell previously frozen fruit as “fresh” without you knowing. Because most of us can’t read labels, it’s hard for us to tell. 

What’s more, there are some markets in Shanghai that do not handle their food correctly, and this can spell a health disaster. I used to buy cheese from a local shop, only to learn months later that they would leave the cheese out for hours before refrigerating. Their shop was quite busy, and they would often be distracted, forgetting to put away their perishables immediately. Although my family never got sick, it was still a disconcerting piece of news when I found out. 

This of course doesn’t mean that no local shop can be trusted. There are plenty of shops that handle their food properly, you just have to be aware. The best way to find out if your local shop is trustworthy is to observe. If you see the vendors putting out frozen food as “fresh” or if you see the perishables sitting out for long periods of time, it’s probably best to find a new shop.


Always choose fresh vegetables 

Over the years I have met so many people who tell me they buy canned or frozen vegetables because they are too scared to buy local! In a way, I get it. The health concerns are real. However, the food health problems in China really aren’t any different from the ones back home, so if you buy fresh vegetables in your home country, you might as well do the same here. Plus, canned or frozen vegetables come with their own set of concerns. You may still want to ask how and where they were grown, but the added problem with canned or frozen produce is that you also have no clue about the sanitary conditions of the cannery or how long those vegetables have been in the freezer. What’s more, you can’t always avoid fresh fruits and vegetables. If you ever eat out at a restaurant in Shanghai, know that your veggies are coming from a wet market, not from a can or a freezer bag.

I’ve also met a number of expats in Shanghai who are obsessed with imported fruits and veggies. Somehow, imported seems to represent fresh or organic. However, you must keep in mind that if you’re buying imported bananas from Chile, for example, those bananas had to be plucked when they were still green and were most likely sprayed with chemicals throughout their entire journey from South America to China. 

If you’re living only on canned, frozen, or imported produce, you’re also missing out on the nutritional diversity that comes from sampling new foods in a foreign country. There is such a wide variety of produce here, including vegetables that you might not find at home. It would be such a shame to miss out on the diversity of produce while here. You might even find new vegetables that you learn to love, and that you’ll miss whenever you leave.

For me personally, I choose to feed my family with vegetables from one of Shanghai’s many organic produce services. Check out Biofarm or Tony’s Farm to find farm-grown, certified organic, fresh fruits and veggies, and even free-range eggs. Most of these services deliver, allowing you to choose a delivery schedule that works best for you and your family. Some of them even offer farm visits so you can see where your food comes from. I used to go and hand pick eggs to bring home, which is a fun activity for the little ones as well. Flip to pages 56 and 57 to see Shanghai Family’s top picks for fresh food.

But don’t be afraid to head out to the wet markets even if you do use one of these services. Although I have vegetables and eggs delivered to my home on a weekly basis, I still pick up a few things when I’m out and about. My family goes through huge quantities of vegetables, so I often have to fill the fridge before the next box arrives. The wet market I go to, though not organic, still gets their produce fresh every morning. Plus, going to the local market and interacting with Shanghainese vendors is a huge part of living in this dynamic city and always makes me feel happy and grateful to live here.


What about fish?

Fish is always a hard one in China, at least for me. I hate frozen fish, and when I go to buy from a shop, I never really know what they’re selling due to the language barrier. But over the years I’ve discovered a few tips and tricks to buying fresh, healthy fish right here in Shanghai. 

The first thing to be aware of is additives. You want to avoid fish that has antibiotics, micro-toxins, heavy metals, methyl mercury, lead, mercury, cadmium, hormones, or parasites. The other important thing is traceability. Buying from a company that can tell you who their supplier is as well as the source/origin of the fish is crucial for determining whether or not there are additives in the fish or if the fish was raised in a sanitary environment. 

When buying from local markets, discovering these details is all but impossible unfortunately. Part of the issue, again, stems from the language barrier. To ensure that my family only eats the freshest, safest fish, I usually buy from either AquaSelect or Metro. 

AquaSelect delivers fresh, additive-free, sushi-grade salmon that I love to make ceviche or tartar with. Metro is big on traceability for all their fish and they cater to restaurants and hotels so you know you’re getting quality goods. 


What about meat?

Like fish, buying meat comes down to quality, additives, and source. You wouldn’t believe how difficult finding good meat was in Shanghai 15 years ago when I first arrived. For those of you who are relatively new to this city, you don’t know how lucky you are in regards to your meat options.

Firstly, a clean shop is a good shop. If the shop looks grimy, do an about face and walk away double time. Secondly, choose meat that is free of antibiotics and hormones. It’s also important to remember that grass fed is healthier than grain fed, so if you can find a meat shop that offers the former, you’re in the money. Thirdly, find a shop that follows global standards for assessing their suppliers. And finally, traceability is always important. The best meat shops are the ones who can trace their suppliers’ meat to the breeding farm for full visibility on the usage of antibiotics and hormones and the kind of feed the animals eat, in some cases even providing bar codes on their packaging that will show where that product came from. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to find a shop with knowledgeable staff members who can answer all your questions with confidence.

The top picks for me are Swiss Butchery and Metro. Both shops have a knowledgeable staff and high-quality products, and they’re the only places in Shanghai I trust to feed my family healthy, organic meat. 


What about chicken?

Of all the meats, chicken is probably the most popular among households, which makes it all the more important to find a quality product. When it comes to chicken, look out for antibiotics, stimulants, growth catalysts, hormones, and other harmful additives. I would also be suspicious of chickens that look larger than any normal chicken has any right to be; this may signal the use of some sort of growth hormone. I also like to look out for the chicken’s farm conditions, making sure that they aren’t overcrowded or stuffed into cages. 

My go-to chicken supplier is easily NPG chicken. They tick all the boxes mentioned above and the chicken is delicious besides! You can find NPG chicken at various supermarkets around Shanghai including City Super where they sell defrosted chicken.


Final thoughts

If you’re newly arrived in Shanghai and fearful of the food options, or if you’ve been here for years and feel jaded, you might think that sources of good food in Shanghai are lacking. However, I find the opposite is true. In fact, there are so many places that I’m often tempted to stop by multiple stores to buy all the ingredients for a specific dish. Instead what I do is choose one store and make a dish based on the best ingredients on offer there. Trust me, it makes life so much easier.

While I do find that there are plenty of places in Shanghai to purchase healthy food, I also recgnize that it took me plenty of time and research. The stores mentioned in this article are certainly not the only options for buying good food in Shanghai, but they’re the ones that my family and I love best. I hope that over time, you will find the stores that are right for you and your family, and that this guide helps you in your search. 


Sharon Raccah


Sharon Raccah is a mom, a certified health coach, motivational speaker, educator, home made chef and founder of PowerMeHealthy. She founded PowerMeHealthy to share her knowledge and to let people know that eating healthy and being healthy are one in the same. Knowing full well about the difficulties and struggles of weightloss and other medical challenges, Sharon strives to teach people that eating well is one of the best ways to change the way you look and feel. 

If you would like more info or are interested in Sharon’s resources, please feel free to contact her. WeChat: PowerMeHealthy