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Inside the Sanyuanli market in Beijing

By Jennifer Pak
BBC News, Beijing

Whether customers are rich or poor, everyone is cutting back at the Sanyuanli market in Beijing.

They are buying cheaper cuts of meat, making fewer dishes, even saying No to a glass of wine.

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Pork seller Li Xuying says people are still buying pricy cuts of meat, but in smaller quantities.

"If you have money then you eat a bit more," she says. "If you have less, then you eat a bit less."

The Sanyuanli market has one of Beijing's best selections of both local and imported goods.

Food prices here have dropped since the Chinese New Year - but even so people are cautious with their spending.

Less wine

Chen Li, who runs a restaurant in Beijing called Café Europa, said she is ordering 20-40% less food from the market.

Beijing's Sanyuanli market
The normally bustling Sanyuanli market is less crowded these days
"Usually European customers would have a glass of wine with their lunch. Now they do without," she said.

Shopper Li Huaimei said she has changed her eating habits in the last few months.

"Today I am cooking spareribs for dinner. But with the financial crisis, I'll make a few dishes less."

Shopper Zhang Lei said a home-cooked meal for three used to cost him 40 yuan ($5.85; £4.00). Now he pays 50% more.

"I have cut back on seafood," he said. "Before, we used to eat salmon three times a week. Now we have cut back to once a week."

Mr Zhang said he doesn't mind paying higher prices for better quality food at the Sanyuanli market. But not everyone can afford it.

"Before, the market was packed with people. Now you can see the crowds are thin."

Eating habits

Things have been especially tough for Tian Xiaoying's fruit stand.

Liu Shuzhen's vegetable stand
Ms Liu says shoppers still need their vegetables
Business has gone down by 20% because many of her clients are foreigners. The strong Chinese yuan means expatriates have less spending power in the country.

"The price of vegetables and fish hasn't fluctuated that much because people must eat it. But for fruits, they will switch from expensive fruit to cheaper kinds."

Oranges can sell for as low as two yuan ($0.30; £0.20) per kilogram to seven times more, depending on the farm.

Ms Tian said she had already lowered her prices to attract buyers.

"If you don't lower your profits, then nobody buys your goods."

Luckily for Liu Shuzhen, business has remained steady for her vegetable stand.

In the face of the economic crisis, Ms Liu said Chinese people are going back to buying basic vegetables like Chinese cabbage and potatoes.

"Some people can cut out certain things when money is tight," she said. "But you cannot cut out vegetables. Everyone has to eat them."

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