In addition to the sundry produce, meat, noodles, tofu, grains, and spices, most open markets also sell prepared food, ready for customers to take home and add to a meal or eat as an on-the-spot snack.
Steamed buns, rolls, plain and stuffed flatbreads, spring rolls, and assorted cold-noodle dishes are commonplace at the markets. You might also find fried or grilled snacks.
Most markets are incomplete without a stand (or two or three) selling bàncài, (拌菜) assorted cold seasoned vegetables that are more or less self-serve and sold by weight. Each seller usually offers around a dozen varieties, laid out on trays, and they're almost always all vegetarian.
You can start getting your snack on by filling one of the plastic-bag-lined metal bowls at the stand with as many varieties as you like—usually the different types of vegetables will all be mixed into one bag since they're all sold for the same price (RMB7 per jin at the shop we asked), but you can also ask for them separately.
Once you've made your selection, the seller will remove the bag from the bowl, weigh it, and tell you the price.
The vegetables are all prepared in an acidic, slightly spicy sauce and can be eaten without any additional preparation.
Our favorites of the bancai: gāndòupí (干豆皮/dry bean curd skin); huāshēng (花生/raw, pickled peanuts with minced carrots and peppers); jiāngdòu (豇豆/long beans); bànsīsī (拌三丝/literally "three strips"—usually some combination of glass noodles, shredded wosun root, turnip, carrot, or seaweed), lǜdòupí (绿豆皮/flat, translucent noodles made out of beans); lián ǒu (莲藕/lotus root); and huācài (花菜/cauliflower).
Your Takeaway Guide to Bancai
A 大头菜/dàtóucài (Kohlrabi)
B 干豆皮/gāndòupí (dry bean curd skin)
C 豆腐干/dòufǔgān (braised tofu strips)
D 花菜/huācài (cauliflower)
E 莲藕/lián ǒu (lotus root)
F 拌三丝/bànsīsī ("three strips")
G 海带结/hǎidàijié (seaweed)
H 酸菜/suāncài (preserved vegetable)
I 笋/sǔn (bamboo shoot)
J 豇豆/jiāngdòu (long beans)
K 绿豆皮/lǜdòupí (mung bean noodles)
L 藠头/jiàotóu (shallot)
M 泡萝/pāoluó (preserved radish)
N 豆豉/dòuchǐ (fermented black beans)
X 素鸡/sùjī (mock chicken)