It has been challenging for me to get organised in China, apart from not being able to read at all at the beginning, there were so many foods I didn’t recognise. Sometimes you pick up an ingredient in the supermarket and have no idea if it’s a fish or vegetable! It is also standard practice for cooks to add MSG to food, and sometimes also sugar, not to mention meat often being added to vegetable dishes and broths for flavour.
There are plenty of wonderful healing foods and colourful ingredients readily-available in China, you’ll know I love them if you take a look at many of my mostly China-inspired A Traveller’s Vegetarian Recipes on this website. Nonetheless, there are some ingredients I always insist on having in my kitchen, even thought they’re not locally-sourced, because they offer a lot of bang for their buck (nutritionally-speaking), like macadamia nuts and coconut oil.
After a lot of trial-and-error and sometimes tiresome exploration, these are my food sourcing suggestions if you live in and around the Ningbo area (in alphabetical order):
Abendbrot, Shanghai-based, Online
Description: A lovely German bakery that makes fresh low-gluten (100% rye) and wheat-free options. They are based in Shanghai deliver online orders once a week to Ningbo, at Zlife.
Best Buys: Wholegrain rye bread; wholegrain spelt bread.
Epermarket, Shanghai-based online store
Description: Similar to FieldsChina, this online store stocks a number of imported foods and organic produce. They also do home deliveries on online orders to Ningbo, with free delivery on orders of over 1,000 CNY, but there is no pay-on-delivery option currently available.
Best Buys: Free-range eggs; organic salad items.
Euho, Yinzhou District
Description: I will miss this store when I leave China. At the moment, I’ve only seen a store in In Time and Incity shopping malls, but I am sure there are more dotted around the city. All produce stocked is dried, they are Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) teas, soups and herbal remedy suppliers. Amazing and unusual ingredients, and the sales assistants can help you find something to cure an ailment (a ‘this for that’ tea, tonic or soup remedy) if you ask them in Chinese.
Best Buys: Tonic soups (already boxed with 3-5 TCM ingredients); loose dried ginseng; dried Xinjiang Jujube (red Chinese dates); loose hibiscus, goji berries and much more!
Description: A great online supermarket based in Shanghai that delivers to Ningbo every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, stocking an impressive range of organic foods as well as imported foods. They are very reliable and never disappoint me. If you spend over 500 RMB on your order, they offer free delivery and a free gift. Cash on delivery with flexible delivery times, so nice and easy.
Best Buys: Locally-grown organic vegetables (especially those that are more difficult to source like fresh beetroot and fennel bulbs; fresh herbs and spices like lemongrass, turmeric, black garlic and thyme; potted herbs (sometimes available); Mongolian-sourced quinoa and plenty of other organic Asian grains; organic dairy products; chia seeds; antipasto pantry items.
The Food Basket, Nottingham University Campus, Yinzhou District
Description: A great store stocking plenty of Western favourites and many of the same imported foods as Metro, but at a slightly lower price. They have also started stocking fresh bakery goods and are now the pick up point for the organic farm deliveries from Kangpu Yuan farm and Tiansheng Farm deliveries on a weekly basis. You can ask the owner Zoe (firstname.lastname@example.org) to add you to her weekly mail order list to be informed of any new arrivals in store.
Best Buys: Olives; caperberries; pickled beetroot; goat’s feta cheese; natural Thai coconut milk; chickpeas; polenta (coarse cornmeal).
Fresh Everyday, Maocheng middle road, Yinzhou District
Description: This tiny store lives up to its name. Also known as M6 in China, they stock a wide range of locally-sourced fresh soy, rice and wheat-based products, vegetables and fruits. The produce changes daily, and I find it all so cheap for the quality on offer.
Best Buys: The most reasonably priced and delicious asparagus I’ve come across so far; fresh homemade tofu and kaofu (wheat-gluten) products; fresh homemade noodles. You can also download their APP via WeChat for very efficient daily home deliveries.
Green & Safe, Shanghai-based deli & cafe
Description: Every time I go to Shanghai, I visit this place. In the heart of the French concession on Dongping Lu, they do the most delicious and good value brunches, and their deli hosts Asian-fusion fresh homemade breads, yoghurts, quiches and Chinese-Western style salads. The salad bar and deli are downstairs, next to the florists and health food market, and upstairs in Green Kitchen, where the delicious brunches are served from 11am. It’s a real treat if you live in Ningbo, as there’s nothing quite like it in this city. You must take advantage of the fresh produce available to take away, and now you can order foods online too, although I’ve yet to try. You need to use Google Chrome however, as the website is currently only in Chinese.
Best Buys: raw cashews and other nuts; fresh seasonal produce from their Yunnan-based organic farm; fresh homemade yoghurt and breads; takeaway salad bowls.
Helekang, Shanghai-based online store
Description: A store, similar to others, but with a much smaller foreign clientele. They sell several organic and natural products, as well as imported food items.
Best Buys: Organic fruit; organic rices and flours; organic root vegetables; hand-pressed tofus; even organic red wine.
Description: An organic farm is based in Yinzhou District in Ningbo. Twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays they deliver orders on organic fruits and vegetables to Nottingham University campus during term-time.
Best Buys: Whatever is in season.
Mahota Farm, Shanghai-based organic farm
Description: A well-established organic farm and café based in Shanghai. You can order reasonably priced weekly shops of seasonal produce. Only part of the website is written in English so you’ll need to use Google Chrome to read it if you can’t read Chinese. The flagship store is the lovely The Mahota Kitchen, take a visit if you’re in Shanghai.
Best Buys: 168 CNY weekly order of organic seasonable vegetables and free-range organic eggs.
Metro, Yinzhou District and Haishu District
Description: Known as Makro in the West, a wholesale supermarket, so most produce is a little cheaper than other places.
Best Buys: Organic dried grains like millet, red rice, black rice mung bean and coix seed; some organic vegetables and some organic aromatics like garlic and ginger; soba noodles; konyak; French apple cider vinegar.
Ole Supermarket, a Chain-supermarket in Heyi Avenue shopping centre, Haishu District
Description: A supermarket full of delicious healthy foods as well as imported foods, and much more. There is also a great vitamins & minerals department, where you can even buy some Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbs, roots and more. A little pricey but good quality produce.
Best Buys: Organic dried grains; high-quality nuts and seeds; free-range eggs; organic vegetables; Chinese herbs & roots; extra-virgin oils like linseed, avocado & walnut; ground walnuts and other nuts and grains; high-quality imported chocolates; fresh juices like red guava.
Tian Gong Zhuang Yuan, Yinzhou District
Description: This organic farm and botanical gardens is based in Yinzhou District. I recommend a day visit, the farm and Botanical Gardens is just a 30-minute walk from the University and it’s very beautiful. Mid-week it’s very peaceful, local Ningbo people usually wait until the weekend to visit with their families. You can buy plants and seeds for sprouting and planting in their botanical gardens too, there’s a lovely little cafe called Cizer Cafe, near a row of old Chinese artisan shops of the local ancient village Xijiang. There is the option for seasonal fruit picking whenever you fancy it nearby. You can fill a basket with fresh mulberries and waxberries when in season at a very reasonable price.
Best Buys: whatever is in season.
Description: Their products are also stocked at World Health Store (details below), a family-run social enterprise, producers of fair-trade organic coffee and honeys in Yunnan, China.
Best Buys: Organic coffees; organic flower honeys; as well as handmade organic skincare from beeswax.
Sunshine’s Aussies Pies, Sunday Plaza, Yinzhou District
Description: Sunshine specializes in Food Safety & Nutrition, her aim is to provide the local area of expats with home-cooked authentic Australian pies, as well as salads and more, inspired by her Aussie partner Alan. The dough is handmade from scratch and all food that Sunshine prepares is both MSG- and preservative-free, and freshly-made. Open for lunch and dinner until 8pm everyday of the week with the exception of Tuesdays. You can find them on WeChat at AussiePies.
Best Buys: Vegetarian homemade pies; fruit & nut salad.
Vanguard Supermarket, Chain-supermarket, all districts of Ningbo
Description: They have a great tea section full of dried flowers, grains, seeds, nuts and leaves (raw, natural and additive-free) and plenty of fresh tofu products.
Best Buys: Dried ingredients for making tea, especially pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, lotus seeds & walnuts; Hona organic products, a brand that produces good quality organic Asian condiments like miso paste and soya sauce.
Description: This is a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant chain with most of its restaurants based in Shanghai. The vegetarian food is delicious, and most of their dishes are based around the meat substitutes tofu and seitan and Asian mushrooms. Some very creative Chinese vegetarian dishes available here. This restaurant stocks a small range of organic food brands and occasionally even chemical-free cleaning products, so if you’re like me, you’ll grab a few things on your way out after having dined there. The website is written in Chinese so use Google Chrome to read it fully in English.
Best Buys: Organic grass powders like alfalfa, barley and wheatgrass; dried organic Asian mushrooms.
Description: A tiny store in the centre of Shanghai, surrounded by several great places to eat like Element Fresh and Baker & Spice. Located in the entrance of the Ritz-Carlton on Nanjing Road, the store name doesn’t match it’s miniature appearance. Nonetheless, they stocked everything I was after! It’s a real treat if you live in Ningbo as there’s little range compared to this location in Shanghai. A membership card is 100 CNY but gives you reasonable offers and discounts on all purchases, the card pays for itself after the first 200-300 RMB spent, so well worth it. They also deliver to other cities including Hangzhou and Ningbo on orders over 1,000 CNY.
Best Buys: All kinds of vitamins and supplements; organic dried foods including chia seeds, maca powder; the NutriBullet (the best blender in existence!); red and white quinoa; grass powders like wheatgrass and spirulina; organic trail mix; raw cacao nibs; organic extra-virgin coconut oil and flaxseed oil.
Hope it’s helpful. Let me know if you’re based in Ningbo and are either trying to source something specific, or some of the details here requires an update. Things move so fast in China I can barely keep up!