By Hart Hagerty
August 14, 2014
Best Markets in Shanghai
Credit: imageBROKER / Alamy

Warning: This list—even thought titled ‘the best markets in Shanghai’—purposely leaves out two of the obvious frontrunners: Dongtai Lu Antique Market and South Bund Fabric Market. Those two markets are must-sees, but I am taking the liberty to cut them out. What good am I if I only regurgitate what you can immediately find in the first few pages of any old city guide? Instead, I want to shed light on some lesser-known markets that provide endless entertainment and some of the most specific shopping you will ever experience.

In Shanghai, people talk about markets like they talk about iPhone apps. You need a hand-cranked pasta maker? There’s a market for that. You’re looking for Chinese high school uniforms from the 1980s? There’s a market for that. You need to customize a necklace chain for that silver pendant from your sister? There’s a market for that. You’re looking for a fresh, affordable leg of lamb for your Friday night BBQ? There’s a market for that, too. Hold onto your hats people. We’re about to embark on the magical Shanghai market tour.

Hotel Equipment Market

Hotel supply stores are usually membership-only deals, where restaurateurs and other professional F&B folks fork over annual fees to gain access to wholesale prices for industrial-grade kitchen equipment. This is not the case in Shanghai, where the huge Hotel Equipment Market opens its doors to everyone from amateur home cooks to James Beard Award winners. Here, a foodie can shop aisles of champagne flutes, deep fat fryers, and bento boxes alongside Shanghai’s Michelin-starred chefs. There are great deals to be had on everything from serious knives to the same big bamboo steam baskets used by street dumpling vendors.

Muslim Market

Every Friday afternoon Shanghai’s Muslim community sets up a vibrant, bustling market on the street outside of the local mosque. Come hungry and feast on pumpkin dumplings, cold noodles, and yogurt drinks—all hand-made fresh before your eyes. In addition to the many makeshift restaurant stalls, vendors hawk dry goods like dates, spices, teas, and candies from China’s far-off western provinces.

Pearl Market

Don’t be fooled by the name. This popular market sells way more than your grandma’s pearls. The second floor hosts dozens of small shops run by talented jewelry craftswomen who can whip up custom creations from gems and tassels to semi-precious stones in a matter of minutes. After you witness the jewelry-making magic, head back downstairs to the first-floor of vendors selling silk pajamas and fashion accessories, like scarves and purses.

Avocado Lady

Shanghai’s favorite entrepreneur, the Avocado Lady is a pioneering grocer who first garnered loyal customers by selling heavily discounted avocados in her then-humble fruit stall. Today, her shop is twice as big and overflows with a vast array of foreign groceries – from truffle oil to Greek yogurt - priced for just a fraction above wholesale. Literally hundreds of Shanghai residents visit her tiny shop each day. Word from the wise: unless you enjoy getting pushed up against a wall of loose lettuce, avoid going on weekends.

Anxi Lu Secondhand Market

This market is a little weird. I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you. But that’s the charm. Also known as the ‘Ironic Sweater Market,’ this sizeable vintage market is located on the west side of the city in what looks like an airplane hanger with dozens of haphazardly merchandized stalls jammed inside. Charismatic vendors hawk a hodgepodge of vintage – mostly fashion and accessories - that vary from charming, quirky to just plain tacky. Go there prepared to dig around and bargain hard.