Wet Markets: A Love Affair

By Sheere Ng - Monday, Jun 18, 2012

Spending a morning at the wet market is like watching a theatrical production: loud chatter everywhere, big hand gestures, fishmongers exposing their bellies to cool themselves in the hot, sweltering afternoon and tottering grannies giving grocers an earful of what they think is too pricey. Not just a place to buy some of the freshest food in town, you can also pick up cooking tips by walking around the market and overhearing conversations between grocers and patrons. Are clean or muddy lotus roots are sweeter? Which fish is the best for frying? And which cuts of pork is best for sweet and sour? You might even see produce which supermarkets will hesitate to put on their shelves, such as pig’s heads. But the charm in a wet market is in its people and the relationships food sellers and patrons forge over decades of business. Talk is not only about business but also about each other’s personal lives. There is also no rivalry between food sellers and they know one another well enough to blabber on about everything under the sun. This is especially true of the market at Marine Parade Central Blk 84 (84 Marine Parade Central Market & Food Centre) which has remained unchanged and has been flourishing since 1976.


Pig’s heads are not only props for local Chinese loan sharks but they are also a delicacy in many Chinese cuisines. But as Singapore modernises, this once common food is increasing in rarity.


The weighing machine dials don’t lie, they tell the cold hard truth. But supermarket price tags? You just have to trust what they say. Do you?


Things can get quite competitive between shoppers. Everyone’s eyeing everyone else to get the freshest meat. You have to be an eagle-eyed early bird here.


Fresh lotus roots caked in mud are placed side by side the well-cleaned ones, but the latter attracts little attention from the shoppers. The mud-caked ones are believed to be fresher and sweeter.


A bunch of asparagus sits on a weighing scale as the grocer works out a good price to sell the vegetable and still earn a profit.


A fishmonger confirming the number of fish that his customer asked for. According to the ladies in the picture who have been patronising this stall for years, they never bargain as they trust this food seller to give them the best price.


The older wet markets don’t just sell food, they also sell inexpensive, casual clothes, among many other things. Like food hawkers, clothing hawkers were also peddling on the streets before they were asked to move indoors into wet market buildings in the early 1970s.


An old second-hand bookshop where one pays the full price for a book, and gets a fraction of cost back when he or she returns it. You can get anything from books by Enid Blyton to books by newer fiction authors like Paulo Coelho.


Any dried food imaginable to make any local dish you can think of.


The cheapest place to get yong tau fu (stuffed bean curd) pieces is in the wet markets, plus you can select which pieces you want.


A fishmonger goes topless in this hot and humid weather, with the exception of a plastic apron. One of the many peculiar sights you see when you visit a wet market.


Buy your onions in bulk and some vegetable sellers will peel your onions for you for free.


A space for work, mealtimes or just plain chit chat. This butcher, on his lunch break, was egging on a grocer to have a picture of her fingers taken (previous picture).


The older markets like Marine Parade have simpler set ups. Most stalls have no signboard or even their own cubicle. A blessing in disguise, it encourages interaction and banter between food sellers.


A literal behind-the-scenes look of a wet market food seller. No proper basins necessary.