Monday, December 31, 2012

Wet markets in Greater Chinatown

Thanks to Victoria, she set me thinking about the number of wet markets there were in the greater part of Chinatown. I will try to recall here and if you know of any more, please add in your comments.

The inner Chinatown (as we call it based on the Kreta Ayer Rd to Upper Cross st) has probably the most well known wet market, apart from the equally popular Tekka Market in Little India and the other at Geylang Serai. Interestingly, these three wet market covers about all the fresh food for the three major ethnic groups in Singapore. For those more inclined to western food, then, it was the Cold Storage supermarket, then at Orchard Road.

Back to Chinatown, many of the Chinese in the old days would flock to this inner Chinatown before festive days to get the necessary fresh food and other specialties of the particular festival. This inner Chinatown wet market could be considered as the Cantonese part as the communication then (and a little today) was in Cantonese. And of course, anything one needed for the Cantonese cuisine, one could find it here.

There was also the other wet market at China St area, known as Kiao-Keng-Kou (literally translated as the entrance to the Gambler's Den - and maybe the elders could share with us if there were one or many of such dens then) where the Hokkiens would flock to.

Apart from these wet markets, there were also two probably known more of their wholesale as they also supplied to restaurants. One was the Maxwell Market and the other Ellenborough Market. A little towards the coast was the Lau Pa Sat (Old Market) which was also another bustling market, said to cater towards wholesales as well. Around Elleborough Market were also the shops selling the dried food, ranging from the hay-bee (dried shrimps) to dried ikan bilis (anchovies) and others like dried shark fins and dried sea cucumber.

I remembered walking along the street next to Ellenborough Market in the 70s when I saw the stallholders throwing away big baskets of cabbage leaves (and others as well). To make the cabbage look nice (as you would see in the markets today, then, probably only in Cold Storage), the stallholders stripped away the leaves with yellow ends. Many old ladies would come to this place in the night to cart away these leaves. After cutting away the yellow edges, they could sell the cabbage leaves at a fraction of the price of the day. I suppose that was how the "lower end" of the society survived then.

Apart from these wet markets, there were also others, somewhat for the neighbourhood. One was at Narcis St (no longer around) and Tanjong Pagar. Along Narcis St, shops along Tanjong Pagar around this area and a lane cutting into Craig Rd, this was the wet market for the residents from Craig Rd and Duxton Rd to those  at Wallich St, Tras St and Peck Seah St (all residential then). This was the market my Mum would bring me to. Always coming back with my feet all wet and black, it was a wonderful trip each time, not just to watch the marketing - bargaining and bantering - but also to buy breakfast that could be you-chia-kueh (you tiao) freshly made and deep fried or deep fried radish cake. And more. Surrounding the wet markets were stalls selling cooked food, mainly for breakfast.

On the other side of Chinatown, where Tau-Fu-Kai (Upper Chin Chew St) was, there was also a wet market along Upper Chin Chew St and the neighbouring shops along South Bridge Rd. From pork butcher to fish mongers to vegetable sellers.

Come festive days, many, including my Mum would head for inner Chinatown or Kiao-Keng-Kou. And for the Peranakans, it could mean going as far as Tekka, Geylang Serai and Tiong Bahru to get the necessary ingredients.

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