Langkawi’s wet markets can be superb resources for the budget traveller. Sometimes guesthouses on the island come with kitchen availability or access, and while Langkawi does indeed have grocery stores and minimarts, shaving a few ringgit from your food budget by shopping at wet markets on the island is worth the effort. Anything from freshly squeezed coconut milk to local herbs and spices are available and of course the cultural experience is priceless.
Some may find produce presentations questionable or even disturbing, but these methods, out of necessity or not, have passed the test of time and been successfully used for generations.
Unless you already have wet market shopping experience, the overall selections of fruit and vegetables may be overwhelming to say the least. The fruit selections often include some seasonal not-to-be-missed treats in addition to your old favourites from back in cooler climes. You may need to ask for them, “Buah ada?”(Do you have fruit? Buah being the word for fruit.) Keep an eye out for rambutan, dokong, mangosteen, jackfruit and durian (for bragging rights).
Feel free to ask questions at the market, because locals are usually more than happy to give the names of fruits and vegetables and their uses, and the answer will often come with a taste test. If language is a problem, point and ask, “Apa ini?” (What’s this?)
In the vegetable (sayur) arena there will be plenty that you’ll recognise, but quite a few look nothing like their Western equivalent although they taste the same. Squashes and pumpkins lead the pack under the name labu.Labu merah looks like a large acorn squash but is your equivalent to pumpkin, while a smaller version, the oriental squash, is identical to acorn squash in cooking and taste.
Leafy greens available include bok choy, kai lan and even spinach (bayam), which is identified by its red stem — it cooks and tastes like spinach at a fraction of the price of imported English spinach. It doesn’t need refrigeration either if the stems are in water, bouquet style.
When it comes to meats and fish, you’ll not find a better retail bargain than at the wet market. An entire chicken (ayam) will cost you an average of 12 ringgit. Usually feet and head removal is free as are additional dismemberments of your choice.
Fish are a bit trickier, because some locals actually prefer the taste of older seafood. We aren’t willing to take the health risk so recommend shopping for the freshest. Fish and shrimp generally go for five to 10 ringgit a kilo, clams five ringgit a kilo and crabs 20 ringgit a kilo. Again a simple request and a little pantomiming if language is an issue can usually get your fish cleaned for free.
There are two major wet markets in Langkawi. One is in Matsirat, near the airport, and the larger one is in Kuah. They usually open early mornings and again late afternoons, with variations depending on public holidays.
By Vanessa Workman
Last updated on 23rd August, 2014.