Book: Pasar - The personalities of Singapore's wet markets

September 04, 2019

Hey guys!

Recently I was at the Central NLB at Bugis and came across the browsing copy of this book. It's part of the Singapore Memory Project. 



As you know, wet markets are on the decline, and I'm glad someone is at least documenting some of these stories.

Inside, you'll find photographs of the stall owners, their goods, as well as accompanying stories.


This is very true though. It's a lot of hassle to cook, and ingredients can easily go to waste if you don't manage to use them up in time. So much planning and stress is involved.

The stall owners also talk about supermarkets, of course. Many people can only visit the market after work, and the traditional wet market would already be closed by then. 

I do understand the allure of the supermarket. Firstly, compared to a wet market, the supermarket is well, dry. No overbearing fish smells and wet puddles on the floor. 

Clean, air-conditioned, and categorised, with prices all obviously indicated. There's no haggling, and as a young rookie, there are also less chances of being 'cheated' as compared to say 'arbitrary' prices at a market. (I can't be the only one that find it intimidating to buy things from a wet market without my mum, am I?)

However, not everything is better at the supermarket.

Sometimes, the vegetables sold at the wet market are bigger and cheaper than the supermarket. The packet of shanghai greens we get from NTUC are much smaller. Same goes for eggs. Taste, freshness, and size of product (say tiger prawns) can also vary. Overall it's always beneficial for the consumer if wet markets can continue to coexist alongside supermarket chains as it offers more choice.


When the old people gradually pass on, who will continue to visit the wet markets?


Another lady commented that she would not want her children to continue the business in the wet market. It's precisely because she wants her children to have better jobs, that she even works here for their education.


This couple shares a story of how many pigs they use to sell in the past. Back then, people even sold live pigs!

And this write-up on a Yong Tau Foo stall in Tanjong Pagar is the most poignant story for me:

"We get here around 3.30am or 4 in the morning every day, and we make almost everything by hand," Madam Tee tells us. She is 87, and they are closing the stall. Madam Tee will retire.
The sad news made the picture of handmade yongtaufu very emotional for me :'(

So what is left of the market scene?

Well, youngsters have been trying to shake up the scene. You may have heard about the livestream bidding for fresh fish by a JJ Lin lookalike! It's a way to modernise and do business a different way.

Also, there's a book called Wet Market to Table by Pamelia Chia, introducing some uncommon vegetables, fruits and herbs that people that do not frequent wet markets may be unfamiliar with. I think that this definitely helps to take away some of the intimidation of stepping into a wet market.

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If you happen to be around the Bugis area, do check out this free browsing copy at the central library! You can't take it home or loan it though. It's a quick read so no worries.

There are also other cool books, such as novels based on the movies by local directors like Royston Tan and Eric Khoo. These include 4:30, Eating Air and more. I loved all these films. Do check them out if interested!

I hope you had fun reading this post. Till next time!

Skye


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