China's first Muji Fresh Market is the real deal for healthy foods and delicacies
China's first Muji fresh market opened in the city on November 11, but it's quite different from the market in Tokyo. Instead of imported Japanese fresh food, the store is offering local ingredients in collaboration with JD's offline fresh food chain 7Fresh.
It's also the first of its kind in the country to combine the merchandising of Muji and the fresh food and catering services of a local brand.
But since Muji announced it would open a fresh market in Shanghai, the news has gone viral online. Young and selfie-hungry consumers thought it would be a new attraction to snap photos for their social media feeds.
They thought it would be like what Prada did in Wuzhong Market last month – with vegetables wrapped in Prada packaging and paper bags emblazoned with the brand's name.
But they were wrong. The fans got nothing from Muji except its minimalist design style.
The fresh market is separate with the Muji store next to it – with an independent cashier and its own membership.
Located in the Hall of the Sun in Ruihong Tiandi complex, the fresh market features 8,000 types of products in a simply decorated 3,000 square meters of space.
It serves residents of the Ruihong Xincheng community with offerings ranging from fresh vegetable to ready-to-heat and packaged meals. It also offers delivery within 3 kilometres of the store.
When I visited on opening day, the area was crowded, but there was no one posing with vegetables.
Shanghai aunties were stocking up on pork and beef from the refrigerated cabinet. "The meat is fresh and on sale," an auntie told me.
The Shanghai uncles, however, were attracted by snacks fresh from the oven. "I'll come here everyday for breakfast," one customer said.
The vegetable area features organic fruits and vegetables direct from farms that use little or no chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
Each fruit and vegetable is carefully marked with information about its season, production area, cultivation methods, preparation and cooking method, and even sweetness level. The eggs were collected within the past 24 hours and each egg was cleaned, dried, and sterilized.
Farms were displayed on overhead screens to show how the green produce was planted.
When I entered the market, a staff member was loudly proclaiming the benefits of the organic tomatoes. He said it was one of the local species and the locals ate them as a kind of fruit decades ago.
The seafood area was promoting the local hairy crabs and a staff member claimed it was the only supermarket in a mall offering hairy crabs weighing over 300 grams in Shanghai.
In addition to fresh produce, the store also provides freshly made delicacies.
There were Japanese and Western varieties, such as a Japanese-style scone set in three flavors. The mochi, a kind of Japanese rice cake, tasted a little chewy and not sweet. They come in two sizes and different flavors, priced from 14.8 yuan (US$2.3) for members.
There was also a truffle flavored roast chicken, a special fusion of the store at an attractive price – 36.9 yuan.
The most distinctive products on offer are the Shanghai snacks.
The fresh market provides the most kinds of local snacks of any market I have visited. And as a highlight you can watch them being made through a window into the kitchen area.
All of the snacks come straight from the oven to the customers and there are free samples for tasting.
The market's most popular snack is the deep-fried pork chop, selling at 16.8 yuan. It's cooked in Japanese style, thick-cut and crispy, but served with Shanghai black sauce – a unique flavor.
I even found some traditional local snacks, which are rarely seen nowadays, at an affordable price.
Xiekehuang, literally meaning crab shell, refers to the shape of the flaky pastry. There are two choices, sweet or salty, and staff said they sold more salty ones than sweet ones. 7Fresh said it sold over 100 boxes a day.
The crab shell cakes are freshly baked and offered straight from the oven at 8.9 yuan for three. They sell for 10 yuan per cake in some tourist attractions. They are best eaten when still hot and the filling of sugar or spring onion, inside the flaky pastry crust, is flavorful in taste.
Tanggao, literally sugar cake, is a kind of fried pastry beloved by local people. I still remember when I was a child, the vendor fried it in a big iron cauldron in the alleyway every morning, and my grandma always bought it for me.
The egg biscuit was also my childhood favorite. It's made of egg, sugar and flour in a cute round shape that looks like a half egg yolk, and tasted sweet and crispy. The price is the same as my childhood memory – around 6 yuan per box.
Coffee and milk tea are offered in a corner of the snack area, from 9.9 yuan to 18 yuan – the cheapest coffee in the Ruihong Xincheng community.
Packaged Shanghai dishes are also a highlight, including braised duck wings, handmade fresh meat buns, and crispy roast ducks. They recommend caifan, literally rice and vegetables, served with a piece of thick-cut preserved pork slice. Priced at 16.8 yuan.
There are special discounts for members; registration is free on JD's 7fresh app.
If you go:
Address: LG, The Hall of Sun, 181 Ruihong Rd, Hongkou District
Opening hours: 10am-10pm