Even before I moved to China, I’d heard various stories about the poor quality of products here. I was told about items, which are normally made of natural ingredients, such as meat or vegetables, which have supposedly been manufactured from materials such as shoe soles!(Love bubble tea? Read this before you buy your next cup). China is full of stories, which seem totally unbelievable, unrealistic, shocking or disgusting. You don’t want to believe that any of them could be true and yet…
My OH checks his Weibo religiously. Any Westerner in a relationship with a Chinese man/woman will know what I mean. Young Chinese have their phones ‘glued to their hands’ and 9 out of 10 times, they’ll be looking at news on a social network equivalent to Twitter-Weibo. It is this site that informs my husband and millions of its users about all these food scandals, and there have been many.
It is a terrifying moment when you find out that the utterly bizarre stories you heard turn out to be true. Especially if they concern things/products you use on a daily basis. Things like oil, meat, even mineral water vegetables! Once you become aware that there is at least some truth behind those rumours, you start being very careful about what and where you buy it.
Some might find this snobbish but I won’t eat street food sold at sidewalk stalls. Regardless of how fragrant it is, how tasty it looks, I will not try it in fear of consuming gutter oil (use of which has been confirmed in many establishments). The snacks might be perfectly alright but simply knowing that there is even a slight chance that they had been fried in oil obtained by straining the accumulated grease rotting in the drains, puts me right off. Once you read this article by the Washington Post, you’ll also think twice about having that fried baozi.
Where do you draw the line though? In a place like China, you can’t NOT try street food. It’s practically impossible. I’m pretty sure lots of small restaurants and vendors are innocent,too. So how do you decide where is safe and where isn’t? You must rely on your gut feeling. There are no Health&Safety controls here. No grades on the doors.
It’s not just street sellers, who are involved in this disgusting business though. The biggest supermarket and restaurants chains have been found guilty of selling products of shockingly poor quality or so called fakes – products sold under a well-recognized brand name, with an identical label as the real thing, but where the actual product is nowhere near as good. It’s not just expired goods (we all heard about those tonnes of old meat distributed all over China) that are flogged to unsuspecting customers that infuriate me here as that happens pretty much everywhere. It’s those fake goods that astonish me every time I encounter one. (Fake bags, watches and clothes are a separate thing altogether)
On more than one occasion have a bought a bottle of Coke or Sprite only to discover it didn’t taste quite right. ‘Hmm perhaps it’s made differently in China’, I thought. Then there was the beer, which my OH can identify as fake within the first few sips. One day, we treated ourselves to some Magnum ice cream only to find out that the texture and taste were different (as a Westerner you’d also notice that they are much smaller here yet equally expensive).
Most recently, I purchased a packet of McVities Digestives (or so I thought), one of my favourite tea-time treats. Any expat will know the excitement that accompanies the process of unwrapping/unpacking an item you used to enjoy back home, that you manage to get your hands on abroad. Imagine my utter disappointment when I took that first awaited bite and instantaneously knew that it didn’t have the right taste…It’s not just about the difference in taste or texture though because I can cope with that (ie bin it); it’s not knowing what that item is actually made of, what it really is.
I’m not naive or unfair and know that fake goods appear all over the world, they are not unique to China but I have never heard of or encountered so many fake products anywhere else. China is definitely the infamous leader in manufacturing dupes/imitations. I’m familiar with items, such as Cola, based on Coca Cola, which has been sold in Poland for many years as a substitute of the American drink but I would never call it a fake. Why? Because even though everyone knows it’s supposed to taste the same (it doesn’t), they also know very well that they are buying a substitute, they are not lead into thinking they are buying the real thing. Cola is packaged differently and sold at a completely different price to the original Coke.
Unfortunately that can’t be said of many products sold in China. Even though they are fakes, they are put into identical packaging and priced the same as the original product. If that doesn’t make you feel like you’re taken for a right fool, I don’t know what does?!
I could winge about this issue for ages as it is a very serious one if you consider your and your family’s health but my point is – if you travel/live in China, be cautious what and where you buy it. Enjoy the local food but be aware that sometimes it really is worth paying more to get a better quality item that is what it claims to be. I wish I could add – complain but as every expat (and many locals) in China knows, that’s not how things roll here…
Have you purchased some fake food items? Did you do anything about it?