New vs. Old

Went to the West Coast market this morning with hubby to do some marketing. He wanted to get halal black chicken and a Chinese halal chicken stall in the wet market sells it. (We are Muslims, he’s a born Malay Muslim and I’m a Chinese Muslim convert for those who don’t know). We ended up with a slice of cod fish, watercress, yong tau foo and more chicken. We also stopped by Sheng Shiong, the fast growing local supermarket chain in Singapore, to check out the seafood section and bought the freshest Australian pacific clams.

I like wet markets – I grew up living opposite one up to about 10 years old. I always went with my mum and always went home in a rickshaw. I remember thinking that the rickshaw uncle (always an old one) is so strong to carry mum, me and always a sea of plastic bags of things mum bought from the wet market. I remember the wet market stank, was hot and was always noisy with sounds of adults trying to rise above the live chickens’ non-stop clacking. I was not very tall so my perspective was always from 3 feet up. Everything was alive, energetic, dirty and pulsating.

As I grew older, I stopped going to the market with my mum. Slowly they became a thing of the past and were replaced by the modern, large, air conditioned supermarkets. Cold efficiency.

I started to go to wet markets again last year when I moved into my current apartment and found a partner in crime in my husband. We love home-cooked food and cooking ourselves. There’s a wet market near our apartment. They aren’t the same as the old ones anymore; the government has made sure there are no more live animals and slaughtering and the place is clean.

It doesn’t have the same feel of the old wet market I used to go to with my mum; the eclectic mix of activities, sounds and smells that make up life then. Nonetheless it is a concept that holds special memories for me.

The set-up is pretty much the same as the old days. Stalls of the same genre would all try to out-sell each other – not by selling cheaper, better value for money or variety. They sell through relationships.

The auntie who runs the halal chicken stall remembers my husband (he’s been there a few times on his own) and had a warm smile for me too. They gamely met all our requests: removing the chicken skin, de-boning, cutting them up into specific number of pieces so we could use the meat over a few meals. There are at least ten other poultry stalls in the same section but we didn’t bother to compare prices. We left the stall with a smile. Satisfied and thinking we’d come back again.

When I go up to a vegetable stall, I could still walk away with fresh chilli, parsley or whatever if I have already bought something and asked for a small freebie (something my mum did every time she buys from that one vegetable stall.) I find myself talking like my mother, bargaining like her and can’t help smiling. My mum taught me how to pick out fresh prawns, fish, etc. I thought I didn’t care when I was a kid and can’t possibly remember something so long ago but I surprised myself at how much I actually retained.

I will always go to modern supermarkets for the convenience but it is the wet markets that I enjoy returning to. Of course, it helps if you have a willing accomplice 🙂

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