Jun 21 2012
Some travellers dismiss Singapore as “Asia lite”: sanitised, commercialised and dull. Dispel such silly notions with a visit to the wet market at the Chinatown Complex where some of the produce is so fresh it’s still hopping.
With ground level stalls selling cheap souvenirs and sundries, the Chinatown Complex doesn’t look like much from the outside. If you explore further you’ll discover that the second level is a sprawling hawker centre and the basement is home to the most exotic wet market in Singapore.
While more Singaporeans do their grocery shopping at modern supermarkets, those who value freshness buy their veggies here. In addition to the usual cabbages, carrots and cucumbers, you’ll find vegetables used in Chinese cooking like bitter gourd, lotus root, and kai lan (delicious when stir-fried with garlic). Most are imported from Malaysia, but some of the leafy greens are grown locally at the farms in the Kranji countryside.
Follow your nose to the fish section where they’re scaled and sliced up at lightning speeds. The fish heads may go in a separate pile, but they’re not destined for the trash – fish head curry is considered a delicacy in Singapore (try it for yourself at the Banana Leaf Apolo restaurant).
There’s a separate section for shellfish like clams, shrimp, cockles and tiger prawns and they’re priced by weight. If your guesthouse has a kitchen, you could cook yourself a seafood feast for a fraction of restaurant prices.
Bigger critters like crabs and lobsters are still alive and kept in plastic crates. Their claws and pinchers are not banded shut, so watch your fingers!
No, this isn’t the pet section – these frogs are for dinner. There’s not a lot of meat on a frog, but it’s very lean and tastes like chicken. In Singapore, frog meat is often served with rice porridge or simmered in a clay pot with veggies and spices.
Not all of the wet market is a nightmare for animal lovers, as you’ll find some stalls selling home-made tofu and mock meat. The stall in the photo sells ingredients to make your own yong tau foo, a popular and healthy hawker dish.
In Asia you get accustomed to seeing cooked chickens with heads and feet still attached, but this was my first time seeing whole preserved ducks — they may have been a special item for the Chinese New Year season.
335 Smith Street, Singapore
Most stalls are open 08:00 to 17:00, come early for the best selection
MRT: Chinatown or Outram Park
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