Shanghai’s traditional wet markets are shedding their old image for a newer, more modern look. Zhenru-Gaoling Market in Putuo District is one of the city’s wet markets leading the way with a delicate vintage décor makeover. But that’s not all, the market has other integrated functions such as snack bars, a fitness center, a hair salon and a community center, attracting customers of all ages.
The journey to Gaoling Market may be half an hour but it is definitely worth it.
The younger generation fill their time by taking pictures at the community center to share on social media platforms, while their elders enjoy the public services and interesting classes, all at an affordable price, or free in some cases. Going to a wet market will never be boring again.
The wet market is totally different from what it used to be: rough, dirty, slippery and smelly in the summer.
Today’s market has been renovated into a kind of tourist attraction, designed as an historic lane, stalls are hidden in 1930s-style houses, decorated with water-wash stones, mosaic tiles and posters of the era to show Shanghai’s vintage fashion style.
Shopping in the market is modern and smart.
At the gate of the market there is a large screen displaying the day’s top six bestsellers from over 100 individual vegetable stalls.
Customers can also see every payment inside the market on a screen.
The screens have been installed above each stall and display information on food prices and vendor credentials.
After buying, the information of the vegetables can be traced by scanning the QR code on the receipt.
The wet market’s food court sells 12 time-honored local snack brands, including household names Shen Da Cheng and Gong De Lin.
For only 30 yuan (US$4.47) you can have an authentic Shanghai lunch here, such as famous xiaolongbao (steamed buns), baizhanji (sliced cold chicken), or even suji (a vegan soy product that imitates chicken) for vegans.
A favorite of local residents is Zhenguang Tangyuan, a mom-and-pop stall, selling glutinous rice balls with stuffing.
There are three choices at Zhenguang Tangyuan: bean-paste, sesame or pork filling glutinous rice balls, for only 2.5 yuan for each. Their glutinous rice balls are big and five is enough for an adult.
Every glutinous rice ball is handmade after you order. What’s more, they only sell uncooked glutinous rice balls so make sure you boil or chill them within an hour of purchase.
The retro decoration of the market continues on the second floor’s community canteen, where you can have a meal for less than 10 yuan (two dishes).
The dishes and their prices are both attractive, 4 yuan for vegetable dishes, 6-10 yuan for a meat dish, while signature dishes, such as stewed pork with brown sauce or meatballs, cost only 16 yuan.
There is also an open kitchen inside the canteen. Here you can heat up your lunch box for free, enjoy a meal with your friends or even take a cooking or baking class.
People aged above 65 get 12 percent discount for the dishes if they dine at the canteen.
Customers are welcome to use the second-floor community areas (almost free) — from a fitness center and a performance hall to a community classroom.
The class schedule is on display in the second floor lobby, as well as on Gaoling Market’s WeChat platform, which is updated every week.
The community classroom provides free fun English and smart phone activity classes for the elders.
The hair salon in the community center is always crowed, from cutting, coloring and perming. The small salon provides every hair service at an affordable price.
Wang Xia, a 44-year-old hairstylist who works in the salon, attracts a lot of young customers because of her excellent hair braid skills.
It coast 20 yuan for 10 minutes’ work and you get a hair braid style similar to a pop star.
“I started as a hairstylist at the age of 17 and I’ve worked for community service for over 10 years. I am happy to create fashion hairstyles for all my neighbors,” Wang told Shanghai Daily.
The performance hall is the most popular place at the wet market as it has a stage for a community chorus and we were invited to join the square-dance performance when we go there.
More importantly, it’s the place where you can meet some amazing Shanghai aunties. They always know the market better than anyone else.