There are a few ways to go grocery shopping in Beijing.
1. The big chains: Beijing boasts Carrefour, Tesco, Auchan and other international supermarkets. We have been to Carrefour and Auchan and picked up things in both. They very obviously cater to the local Chinese rather than expatriates, though they include a large selection of imported goods. Carrefour, with a fish and seafood department that included the following images…
Live fish, shellfish… and eels and turtles. Because China, right?
2. Expat-targeted shops: If you’re in Shunyi or Chaoyang, you have a handful of options for buying goods – Jenny Lou’s and Jenny Wang’s are everything from milk-to-meat-and-frozen-goods type of grocery stores, with detergents and soap and kids’ toys; there are other single-product vendors (such as Schindler’s butcher shop) that are equally targeted at the expats. The school has arranged trips to Jenny Lou’s (which has a nearby branch in a place called Europlaza) and it tends to be more expensive – but is also the place you can get Skippy peanut butter, has a wine “cellar”, and various imports that Carrefour may not have.
3. Local grocery stores: Don’t expect anything in English! There are two behind the school, and they are definitively local markets for the locals, and if you go in you had best expect to know what you’re looking for! They are, of course, priced accordingly. That said – things are easy enough to find if you know what you are looking for, and to a degree even if you don’t (does it have a picture of a washing machine on it, and a white shirt that is clearly supposed to be bright white? okay, this is either bleach or washing machine powder!); cooking ingredients, however, can definitely require a translator or a printout of the words you need to find on the container.
Adam and I suggest using either Pleco or Google Translate (with the OFFLINE translation features enabled!) with a smartphone; you can hold it up to the item and have characters recognized by the system, and then either get a direct translation or sort through options.