Seafood selling in far-flung Urumqi

Published on
July 22, 2012

Seafood choices are surprisingly diverse in the Chinese metropolis of Urumqi, which is 2,500 kilometers from the nearest sea, making it the world’s most inland city.

The fact that tilapia from the southeast coast can be competitive with lamb in China’s far western pastureland says much about the advances in China’s logistics network. A Carrefour outlet in Urumqi, China’s most westerly metropolis, sells tilapia chilled and frozen at RMB 14.80 and RMB 15.98 per kilogram, respectively. Lamb rib and leg sell at RMB 44.50 and RMB 45.50, by contrast.

The seafood options are surprisingly diverse in Carrefour’s frozen section, where shrimp sell at RMB 14.60 and 29.80 for 250-gram and 320-gram packages, while frozen salmon retails at 48.90 per kilogram and yellow croaker at RMB 55.80. The frozen products are produced by Donghai Aquatic Products Co., which ships from Zhejiang province on the southeast coast to Urumqi by truck, a four-day journey.

Donghai’s local representative, Mr. Zhang, said his clients were mainly supermarkets and restaurants. He pointed out the firm had decided to tap Urumqi, which has a population of about 2.7 million, because the national government had in 2007 made it a priority for fixed asset investment, in a bid to lift GDP per capita to national averages (from 50 percent the national average in 2009).

And while China has attempted to make Urumqi a trading and transport hub for Central Asian neighbors like Kazakhstan, that may be a step too far for Donghai, said Zhang. “We prefer to concentrate on the USA for our exports,” he said.

While Urumqi lacks the seafood-dining scene of east coast cities, it doesn’t lack for seafood dining options. A popular restaurant, the Wan Sui Sushi restaurant operated by the Yi Ji Bang Food Group Co. flies in fish from Guangdong, a seafood producing hub near Hong Kong, for its menu, which includes salmon sashimi (500 grams) for 112 RMB and Japanese curried crab roe for RMB 128. Staff insisted the company’s salmon is domestically sourced, from a river near the China-Russian border.

Locals spoken to for this article pointed out future drivers of Urumqi’s growth, such as a high-speed rail connection set to connect the city to the central Chinese city of Lanzhou by 2015. Others suggested a new light rail system for the city, to be built to a similar timeline, will make the city more liveable for investors and workers moving to the city. A new Volkswagen car plant, for instance, is being built near the city’s airport.

Improved mobility and spending power are clearly driving consumption in China’s cities, even in a metropolis as far-flung as Urumqi. For those with lesser means, the Carrefour outlet in Urumqi also stocks locally farmed catfish and carp, cheap options for those seeking fresh fish. Carp sells at RMB 12 per 500 grams.

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