Going shopping is ingrained in our everyday lives, whether for daily necessities, favorite items, or just some window shopping or retail therapy. Part of the fun of exploring other countries is to check out what is being sold, how and where.
My husband and I like to browse through markets and supermarkets in foreign countries, just to see all the different products in other parts of the world. But I digress. It is different if you do this for fun on a vacation than if your meal plan depends on it. Here is an overview of what to expect when going shopping in Beijing.
Supermarkets are plenty and come in all different sizes. The Chinese chains Chaoshifa and Jinkelong can be found all over the city. Their stores carry fresh produce, meat, dairy products, alcohol, and all kind of stuff you would expect in a supermarket, but not typical Western items such as cheese, margarine, cream, cereals, coffee (except for instant)….
You have more luck finding those in the BHG supermarkets, which are usually located in the basement of big shopping malls, e.g. Hualian and Capital Mall, and in the Western supermarket chains like the American Walmart (Chinese name: wó ěr mǎ 沃尔玛) and French chains Carrefour (jiā lè fú 家乐福) and Auchan. Even there, the selection can be limited and expensive. Auchan may be the lesser known one of those three but it is definitely worth checking out.
True Western supermarkets are Jenny Lou’s and April Gourmet. These chains carry import food, have fresh western bread, a cheese counter, fresh produce, some imported personal care items, and much more. Locations can only be found in the Eastern part of Beijing in Chaoyang and Shunyi. A small new Western supermarket just opened in Haidian district in Wudaokou. It is located inside the Huaqing Jiajuan just west of the subway station. This residential complex is gated but it is easy to follow a resident through the gate inside.
While supermarkets sell fresh produce, the freshest and cheapest can be found on fresh markets like farmers markets and on the side of smaller streets. Sometimes those markets are a bit hidden in between residential buildings. To find them just look for people carrying enormous amounts of veggies in plastic bags or in a “bag on wheels” and see where they are coming from.
Many vendors post the price per pound (500 g) on a small cardboard sign. You can probably haggle over the price, I don’t since I buy only small quantities and it is dirt cheap already. It goes without saying that these markets are geared towards the Chinese household and only sell what is commonly used in Chinese cooking.
If you are looking for more Western ingredients, you need to go to the Sanyuanli market in the Sanlitun area where they specialize in non-Chinese produce geared towards foreigners and therefore also speak some English. Here you can find brussel sprouts, basil, even Thai basil if you are very lucky, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves (as you can tell, we really like Thai food) and other non-Chinese greens. Even the chefs of ethnic restaurants come here.
A little Indian supermarket called Qi Yuan Market right behind the Sanlitun Village and Yashow market, across from the police station, carries Indian spices and other non-Chinese ethnic food items.
If you are looking for organic produce, check out the Beijing Organic Farmers Market. There are also organic farms, where you can order online and get the food delivered to your home.
Western style shopping malls with many clothing stores are very popular and located in most neighborhoods. They offer a mix of Chinese and foreign brands, and you can find typical international big clothing names there. Haggling is not common in shopping malls but many stores often have sales going on.
Shopping malls often have a supermarket and a food court in the basement and restaurants on the top levels.
You can also find smaller clothing stores on the street, sometimes just a rack with clothes or a table with socks etc. Bargaining is possible there but trying on clothes often is not.
Another option for outdoor jackets, T-shirt, shoes and various other clothing is Yashow market in Sanlitun, right next to Sanlitun Village (which was recently renamed to Tai Koo Li).
Update: Yashow market closed in late December 2014 for a couple weeks for renovations. As alternative try the Alien Street market, also called Russian market, in the Ritan area. As the name implies, it caters to Russians and carries more “Western sizes”. Prices start more reasonable.
Update Sept 2015: Yashow finally reopened. Unfortunately it is nothing like the old place. You won’t find the row of small stalls with knock-off clothing, cheap shoes and souvenirs anymore. I also heard the the Russian market is next for “renovation” … Too bad.
Update Sept 2016: The new concept of Yashow obviously didn’t work. The market is closed again.
Small appliances and other household items can be bought at Walmart, Carrefour, some other bigger supermarkets, in department stores of shopping malls and at local electronics stores like Suning, and also online. The Wangtong market at Fuchengmen also carries kitchen stuff.
If you need furniture or decorative items, there is always IKEA (Yí jiā 宜家), north east just outside the fourth ring road. They do deliver to your home but keep in mind the the delivery driver will call you on his way and expect you to give him exact directions to your house, of course in Chinese. So if the items are not too big and can fit in a small car, there are taxis available at the exit. More furniture stores are located around the north fourth ring road.
PS: If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out my Beijing Shopping Guide, the ultimate guide to shopping in Beijing, with the latest insider information from foreigners living in Beijing. Or the Practical Guide – Newcomer to Beijing, which contains this post and 30+ others, plus additional resources. It follows your steps from planning your move to a new culture to settling into your new expat life in Beijing, all in one easy-to-read ebook.