If there’s one thing you will see in a market in the northeast, it is chilis. Not the variety that can be safely grilled and eaten, but the things that look like a parrot’s beak: red and dangerously sharp. The main market of Sohra lived up to expectation. Walking between the cramped aisles I came to a stall which held an enormous heap of chilis and nothing else. Another time The Family would have picked up a good quantity to take home, but she gave it a pass.
This time around we didn’t have time to go back to the market, so I dug up some of the photos I have from our visit five years ago. I didn’t know it then, but Sohra is famous for its oranges. A large square-footage of the market was given over to them. The oranges are flavourful. The women selling them were in tribal-style dress, the shawl tied across the body so that it can be used as a back pack, as well as raised into a hood to cover the head.
Being able to cover the head at short notice is clearly important in one of the rainiest parts of the world. Outside the market a young boy sat guard next to his family’s shopping bags and umbrella. He couldn’t make up his mind whether I was trying something funny. The center of Sohra was not full of tourists then.
I’d heard it said a few times that “In Guangdong they eat anything with four legs except the table”. Even that hadn’t prepared me for the Qingping market. There was the initial shock of the animal trade, but after that was a mysteriously multiplying menu of medicine.
I could identify beans and mushrooms in large varieties, but as I moved on I found dried tendons of deer, sun-dried penis of animals, huge bundles of dried starfish, sea horses and other marine products I could not put a name to. In the last 10 years there have been multiple studies of bacterial contamination of the dried sea food, and the results do say that some caution is called for.
The rows and rows of shops seems to have been here for more years than you can count. Guide books talk of a big clean up after the 2003 SARS outbreak. But the four story building in the middle of this sprawling road, which houses as many shops as the street outside, was completed in 1979. The rental for space here apparently is a percentage of the sales. It seemed to me that most of the shops inside the building concentrate on wholesale, whereas the ones outside are clearly more interested in the retail trade. I found it confusing in detail, but the general ambience was very familiar from markets in India.