August 1, 2008

Where to go for kitchenware in Beijing

Sometimes in Beijing it can be hard to find kitchenware items that you would take for granted back home. Items used primarily for baking or roasting can be especially difficult to find because many Chinese families simply don't do this kind of cooking. Beijing Gourmand remembers the excitement he felt when, after several years living in Beijing, he finally got a small oven. The only problem then was where to find things like measuring cups, baking sheets and a meat thermometer. Several scouts of local markets and Carrefour were unsuccessful. The situation is getting better, but for now it seems like the best options are either ordering online, going to an upscale kitchenware store, or making an Ikea run.

The online option:

If you just need some basic tools to get the job done, and can wait a day, then this eBay with Chinese characteristics might be the best option. Some basic Chinese skills will be of use but you don't have to be Da Shan to successfully order from Taobao. If you use Firefox then just install the Chinese Perapera-kun add-on, which will provide mouse-over translations.

Beijing Gourmand and colleagues have had good experiences with a Taobao store specializing in items for baking. Ask for a small discount if you buy several items, but don't expect much because the prices are already rock-bottom. Best of all, the owner is willing to deliver items for a minimal fee and accepts cash payment upon delivery, much better than trying to figure out how to use Taobao's online payment system. Once you know what you want, click on the 和我联系 button in the box in the upper left corner (be sure to check out the store's rating at this point). You'll have to be registered, a fairly quick and easy process, but once you are then you'll be able to chat directly with the seller using Taobao's proprietary instant messenger, which is shared with the Alibaba platform. If you have even a very basic Chinese level then the best way to proceed is to send the links for the items you want and then ask for the seller's phone number to call him directly to close the deal.

Upscale: Pantry Magic

If you need something more obscure, want to buy top quality kitchenware, or are looking for the perfect gift for your foodie friend, then Pantry Magic could be your best option. There are plenty of upscale kitchenware stores in Beijing, but none as well designed as Pantry Magic or with staff who are even half as enthusiastic and friendly. Pantry Magic's owners clearly love what they do and actually know how to use the items they sell, something you won't find in many other stores.

Mid-range: Ikea

Certainly not magical, but a good option if you want something in between online and upscale. A wide range of durable items at reasonable, if not cheap, prices. Be sure to grab a hot dog or Swedish meatballs while you're there.

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