Even a humble alleyway store stocks boxes of fresh seasonal fruits.
I spent the last two weeks of December in China, visiting my mother and stepfather, who have been living in Shanghai for the last year. Though I saw just a small segment of the country, I was blown away by the quality and variety of ingredients in the markets, and the great food to be found on almost every corner.
We hear a lot about China's fake honey and genetically-modified milk, but here are a few snapshots of what it is really like to eat in China for a couple weeks.
My favorite meals in China included a trip to Yuyuan Garden for soup dumplings (xiao long bao, one of Shanghai's specialties), a traditional meal of Peking duck in Beijing, and a very unusual lunch at a restaurant specializing in the cuisine of the Dai people, an ethnic minority in Southwestern China.
I also did a lot of cooking with my mom, and was in awe of the enormous variety of fresh produce, much of it locally grown. Food vendors set up on street corners sold not just prepared food, but also nuts and fruits. The diversity of ingredients was staggering; the supermarket dried seafood section alone included more types of fish than I normally see at an American fish counter. I could have spent at least half my vacation slowly wandering through the markets, gathering inspiration and taking notes.
Back home, I have a new cleaver and a head full of ideas for new dishes based on what I ate in China. It was an eye-opening two weeks.
Have you taken any trips in the last year that have inspired your cooking?
Related: Bao & Beyond: 8 Chinese Breakfast Favorites
(Images: Anjali Prasertong)