Add Oil is a monthly series in which we digest trends and grill entrepreneurs from across the universe of Chinese food and drink. Drop us a line if you have a suggestion.
As most of the world descends into another year of seemingly endless lockdown, there’s arguably never been a better time for people to rethink their living spaces. In China, whether you live in a mansion or a shoebox, there’s no easier (or cheaper) way to revamp your home than the country’s biggest online shopping platform, Taobao.
Taobao can be thought of as a mix of Amazon and Etsy — international brands, knock-offs both expertly and badly made, and shops selling original designs all populate a seemingly infinite rabbit hole of online retail. It’s home to pretty much anything you can imagine, sitting across the spectrum of utilitarian and essential items to things that are cool, creative, and sometimes even all-out bizarre.
Open Sesame Magazine is Curating “Weird Taobao”
Given the close proximity that the platform’s Chinese buyers have to the factories that power most of the world’s manufactured goods, items can often be mind-bogglingly cheap — though savvy shoppers know that with items at this price point, quality can seriously vary.
To inaugurate our new monthly food series, Add Oil, here are some of our favorite food-themed home essentials that we’ve plucked from the far reaches of the Chinese online shopping universe.
Why so serious, crispy lettuce queen? We personally think lounging alongside your favorite raw vegetables is a great way to get your five-a-day.
But judging by the look on this model’s face, she’s wondering what choices derailed her life to the exact moment that she was captured in this photo shoot, seated and surrounded by stuffed broccoli and bok choy in pillow form.
Speaking of pillows, ones shaped like pigs’ feet are probably a thing you didn’t know you needed. Judging by the photos, the way these printed pillows capture the braised meat’s glossy sheen is at once amazing and unnerving.
Sadly, however, this doesn’t seem to be a Chinese internet original. If an item on one of China’s online shopping platforms has “ins” in the description, it most likely means the item is copied from something seen on Instagram. Despite Facebook’s photo platform being blocked in China, many sellers tap into trends — or in some cases, downright copy certain items — that become popular on Instagram for a fraction of the price.
And while we’re at it, why not throw in a photorealistic baked fish or chicken leg to make it a four-course Chinese meal?
Seeing a theme here? There’s a lot of pillows in our list, but they’re so good we couldn’t resist queuing up for seconds (or thirds). Cozying up with a bag of bready, bite-sized xiao mantou (小馒头) and QQ Candy from Chinese snack company Wangzai, our sleepy snack-loving lady on the left looks completely at peace.
And for singles coping with a recent breakup — or perhaps rejecting long-term relationships altogether — it makes sense to satisfy your need for companionship by curling up with a human-sized version of your favorite vegetable instead.
We also adore these takes on classic Chinese and American candies, such as the localized versions of Wrigley’s Doublemint and Dove, and those iconic milky White Rabbit candies. (White Rabbit has started releasing its own official swag in recent years, from perfumes and totes to pillows — the ones below don’t seem to be an authorized version.)
Some readers will have grown up in a household in which slippers were basically a home fixture. As soon as you entered, the shoes came off and slippers went on — no questions asked. And whose home slipper collection is complete without a pair of longxia (龙虾), or lobster-themed, spongey slippers?
We’re not crustacean experts, but for us this immediately begs the question — could we pass these big boys off as supersized versions of their even more popular “little lobster” (xiaolongxia, 小龙虾) brethren?
Aw, look at their smiles! These little sponge bros come in a set of four breakfast-themed items — baozi, cookie, fried egg, and toast.
Kind of sad that as these sponges inevitably get soaked and scrubbed again and again on pots and pans, their little smiles will be all but scuffed away. Perhaps an apt metaphor for life in 2021?
All images: Taobao
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