Singapore Adventure

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Chinatown Wet Market
by jima

Unable to rally ourselves to be tourists after a long week, we decided to take it easy on Saturday morning. But if we woke up early, we agreed, we'd check out the Chinatown wet market.

So 8am on this overcast Saturday morning found us wandering through the deserted streets of Chinatown in search of the wet market. It somehow felt like State Street in Madison at 8am on a Saturday morning, only cleaner and a somewhat more smelly. We found the right building pretty easily (ya gotta love great maps!) and let the market's sounds and smells lead us half-way around it before spotting the long ramp leading to its open-air basement.

We descended into the subterranean bustle, overcome with wonder at how far the array of stalls reached. Tucked away under a large metropolitan building, it was a farmers' market on steroids. If you can eat it or grow it or catch it, they've got it. Stall after stall crammed with foods of all shapes and sizes. Vegetables, fruits, flowers, spices, dried I-don't-know-what-that-is, fish, tofu, eggs, poultry, frogs(!), all roughly segregated.

And an alarming amount of it still alive. Cages of live frogs and tanks of squirming eels. If you buy something, do they kill it? Clean it? De-bone it? We weren't brave enough to ask.

We started our adventure by just wandering and taking some photos. We found interesting (and often unrecognizable) items in almost every stall. Some highlights:
  • large squid (about two feet long) stacked into mounds of tentacled monsters
  • mud-covered lotus root. I keep seeing this in soups here and recently discovered what it was.
  • charcoal? No, it's an egg, claims the vendor.
  • a very large, pink vegetable that looked like an overgrown radish. It came highly recommended by a little Chinese lady, but I suspect she had a vested interest.

When we finally set down to shopping, we made a few efforts to barter with the vendors, but they were uninterested, likely because of our obvious lack of Chinese ancestry. Regardless, prices were cheap relative to what we've been paying in the supermarkets.

Our purchases included a lot of fresh produce (including enoki mushrooms and mangosteens), some tofu (I'm developing a taste for it, especially a flat fried version that I've never seen in the States), a pound of large shrimp (head on!), and, for a dollar, a bouquet of orchids to liven up our apartment. The biggest bargain was a huge mound of beansprouts for only 20 cents.

I couldn't talk Venitha into the live frogs. This time.