How do you like your eggs?

If you’ve travel(l)ed at all, you are of course aware that things are different in different countries. Among the most obvious differences are buildings, clothes, language, and, above all, food. Ya gotta eat. For most tourists, eating in local restaurants is a normal part of the travel experience, but not everybody goes shopping in a local market or supermarket. Perhaps they should. It’s an experience full of unknown unknowns.

Who would have guessed that the sale of eggs in China could be so gloriously chaotic.

I mean just look at this place!

Bravo Supermarket, Xiaoshan District, Hangzhou, China

I felt like I’d walked into a Dr. Seuss book. If on the other hand Dr. Seuss had walked into a Chinese supermarket, there’s no doubt he’d have written a poem on the spot:

Eggs in brown, eggs in blue;
Eggs in boxes, eggs just loose.
Small eggs, big eggs, eggs in white;
Eggs too big and eggs just right.
Eggs in fifteens, twelves, and twos;
All these eggs, but how to choose!

If you’re American, you probably expect eggs to be refrigerated. News flash: the rest of the world doesn’t. It’s not that they’re too cheap to pay for the refrigeration, or that their immune systems fight off evil egg bacteria better than ours. No, the reason is that Americans are squeamish.

We don’t want the eggs in the store to bear any evidence that they came out of a hen’s nether regions. American eggs—which incidentally are sold in opaque boxes that coyly hide their pristine appearance—are *so* clean that you can easily believe they were created a priori, from nothing whatsoever, thus solving the eternal conundrum of which came first, the chicken or the egg.

The problem with washing away all the little feathers and bits of mysterious organic residue is that it destroys the natural protection that eggs have that prevents bacteria from getting in. In other words, washing makes the eggs more beautiful but more vulnerable, so we have to refrigerate them.

Unwashed eggs don’t need refrigeration. Or washing. It’s a lot of trouble, isn’t it! And unless it’s Easter and you’re big into arts and crafts, you’re just going to crack open the shell and throw it away anyway. So that explains why the eggs in the photo aren’t in refrigerated shelving. It doesn’t explain anything else about that whole egg situation.

Look, where I come from, eggs are sold in narrow cardboard boxes of a dozen.

In Singapore, eggs were normally sold in narrow plastic boxes of ten (or squarish trays of 30), but you could find special, weird boxes that had an “extra” two eggs in them, for a total of twelve. I was greatly amused by this. I have a photo somewhere. Can’t find it.

If you’re looking for a narrow cardboard box of a dozen eggs in China, well, you’re similarly out of luck, apparently. Best I can do is this:

Yes, it’s a dozen. But this three-by-four arrangement is preposterous!

Are you sure you don’t want, say, 15 eggs? Fifteen is a normal number of eggs, right?

…dark eggs? Whatever you do, don’t let them hatch!

Oh, it depends on the price, you say. Well, if the Facebook memes are anything to go by, eggs are expensive in the US these days, although maybe less expensive now than in recent months. So what about in China?

It says 6.38 Chinese yuan per 500g.

Boxes of a dozen eggs are about 500g.

Using today’s exchange rate, that means you can get a dozen of these eggs for US$0.93.

At that price, I bet you won’t mind that they haven’t been washed! You can still refrigerate them if you like. I always do.