The organised mess that is Yiwu International Trade City opened my eyes just a little bit more when it comes to human behavior and reminded me how clean and relatively sanitised Australia really is. If you’ve followed this series on my recent work trip you would have already learnt that Trade City is a massive development basically set up to perpetuate consumerism around the world.
If you were to count the number of customers in these buildings per day you’d hit 40 000 in a flash and the good thing is the building infrastructure can cope with these numbers, although a few dozen more cleaners would have made things a little more bearable. The person that was struggling to cope with certain things was me.
If you’re eating anything right now I’d say put it down as I’m about to talk toilets. The toilets here are among the worst I’ve seen anywhere in the world, and I’ve seen some nasty ones in some of the 40-odd countries I’ve been to so far. The floor in the urinal area was a slippery skating rink of urine and spit. Urine from filthy bastards not aiming properly and spit from similar folk just feeling the need to clear the throat every 10 minutes. I actually had to roll up my jeans so they wouldn’t touch the floor and I’ve since thrown out the shoes I wore there. I’m not going to describe the state of the squat toilets, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.
Enough said. Let’s talk about the food available in this Trade City.
Each building has about three cafeteria’s that easily copes with the hungry hoards spending up very little money on what I thought was quite good food. The deal is once you step inside the cafeteria you head to the cashier and exchange money for poker-style plastic tokens worth RMB5 (equivalent AU77¢) each, though you’ve got to watch the sneaky bugger operating the cashier as he’ll try to rip the (non-locals) off by giving the wrong change.
Most dishes cost 1 token, sometimes 1 1/2. So you can fill yourself up stupid on next to nothing. I was impressed to see a fully-functioning noodle bar where a cook cuts and pulls the dough into fine noodles in less than a minute. Plunge it into simmering water, add a few other ingredients and there you have it – handmade noodle soup!
When none of the kitchen staff speak English a little sign language and pointing generally gets you what you want and a lot of pushing and elbowing will also get your order taken. I quickly learned it was ok to shove the rude locals aside when he/she tried to push in while I was getting my food and they realised this six-foot-four foreigner wasn’t tolerating their kind of behaviour.
The pork dumpling soup I had on this day was the most perfect bowl of steamy goodness I had for a long time. Especially when it was 3°C outside and about 10°C inside Trade City. Yiwu was experiencing a cold snap and I needed some warming up.
One of my most memorable one-token-dishes was the pork & bean stew with chilli and star anise. Who cares about the unglamorous un-environmentally friendly styrofoam container it came served in. It was rich, earthy, a bit fatty and there were loads of bones full of tender porky goodness. Lucky I was the only one in my king-size hotel bed that night.
Sitting near the beans was a tray of intriguing mounds of what looked like sliced meat scattered with chopped cucumber and tomato. I just had to have one. From the flavours I could decipher, I call this dish soy pork with greens. Tender slices of possibly braised/steamed pork fanned over a mound of some kind of greens. The gravy is rich in salty soy and I’m in love with the fatty pork belly that was used. An absolute winner.
Thanks to Nescafe the only coffee-fix available in Trade City I could find was in the form of a processed pre-sweetened drink in a can. I’ve had these previously in other parts of Asia so I grabbed a couple – one for now and one for another time. Coffee in this city seemed challenging to find.
The bliss bun snack I squeezed in was a curious few mouthfuls of mystery meat and a vegetable I just couldn’t identify. Tasty and a bit dry and called “bliss” because that’s what our interpreter said the red stamp meant on the bread bun. You’ve got to try these things, right?
Pre-prepared meal combinations sat in pots ready to be ordered and either stir-fried or turned into wholesome soups and the all-too-familiar preserved eggs sat and stared at me in plastic bowls filled with tofu and black broth and coriander. These looked interesting enough though I’m sure I’d be spitting the preserved egg onto the floor of the cafeteria as the locals did with the bones and gristle from their lunch. Not a fan of the pungent eggs.
The cafeteria in Trade City’s newest building (Phase 4) is the most civilised out of all the others. It’s clean, organised, has room to move and has slightly better food options. Sadly we discovered this on the last day. The dumpling soup here was exceptional and it was nice to have the choice of two styles of dumplings.
The plate of stir-fried soya beans (above) is well-recieved by Miss B and myself and I also couldn’t go past the onion cake (below). This cake resembled the good old gozleme that you seem to find at any food festival or market in Sydney, just minus the cheese and spinach or meat. Here it is less oily and is packed with fried onion and potato and loads of seasoning. Beautiful.
When it comes to food this city within a city is pretty impressive. Not only do you have well-equipped cafeterias pumping out grub for the thousands, but you even have individuals walking the buildings shopping corridors selling quick snacks. Telegraph cucumbers, peeled pineapples on skewers and even peeled sugarcane sticks to munch on while sifting through stock to purchase. If you hear the words huánggua (cucumber), boluó (pineapple) or zhe (sugarcane), you knew there’s food coming!