Thursday, September 8, 2011

[kl-bogel] Gallery: Singapore's vibrant wet markets

Discover the hustle and bustle, sights and sounds of Singapore's Tekka and Tiong Bahru wet market

By Lester V. Ledesma

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As with most wet markets in Asia, morning is the busiest time at Little India's Tekka Market. This sprawling two-story building brims with traders peddling everything from vegetables, to fruits, meats and even obscure ingredients for ethnic food.

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"This market is like Singapore -- it has international appeal", says Ida, who operates one of the 300 or so stalls here. "There's Vietnamese rice paper, Indian curry powder and Thai mangoes. On weekends, people from all nationalities come here for their supplies."

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The owners of Wee Chai chicken stall enjoy a few quiet hours after the morning rush at Tekka Market. It's not all idle time for vendors Osman and Wee Chai, who still get customers every few minutes during the midday slowdown. This is far from boring work, says Osman (at left): "We know most of our customers so it's just like being visited by friends."

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The white-haired Osman answers a phoned-in order for chicken legs -– lots of them –- to be delivered to a nearby hawker stall. In addition to the low prices, wet market stalls like these offer butchering and on-foot delivery services at no additional cost.

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While waiting for customers, a shopkeeper at the Yu Mun Ji Niang Dou Fu stall in Tiong Bahru Market creates more of her produce -- eggplant and chili slices stuffed with fish paste, to be used as the main ingredients to the popular Yong Tau Foo dish. As a testament to the freshness of their product, Tiong Bahru's Yong Tau Foo vendors are located just beside the fish section.

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Little India's residents are ensured a constant supply of fresh mutton, thanks to the Tekka Market's numerous meat stalls. "Unlike groceries that only sell meat in 200-gram packs, here you can buy as much or as little as you want," says this butcher. "It doesn't matter if you want 50 grams or 500 grams. I'll chop it up however you want."

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A burst of color punctuates the drab interiors of the Tekka Market as a dry goods vendor sells her curry powder to a customer. The lease for stalls in this particular market range anywhere between S$1,500-S$2,500, depending on its size and location. However, unlike other Singapore markets which merely open till 1 p.m., the stalls at Tekka Market do business all day.

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62-year-old fruit stall owner Susan has run her corner space at the Tekka Market with her husband Johnny for more than 30 years. A third-generation hawker, she takes the long hours in stride. "We work from 4 a.m. till around 7 p.m. Customers come anytime so we don't even have time to eat. We have a quick breakfast before the shop opens, and then a quick lunch at 3 p.m. when there isn't much people. That's our day"


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While Susan caters to the buyers, husband Johnny is busy slicing up a massive jackfruit. "Some fruits are bought in bunches, while others are too big to sell as a whole," says the 64-year-old shopkeeper. He also gives the chop treatment to fruits that have been bruised by the hands of too many customers. "The skin doesn't look nice anymore but the inside is still perfect," says Johnny.

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Soybean stall owner Linda proudly displays a basket of beansprouts, along with a selection of tofu, tempeh and other soybean-derived products at the Tiong Bahru Market. A second-generation stall owner, she sees the family business lasting for another generation, thanks to her son who helps her keep shop.

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Fresh fish changes hands for seven busy hours at the Tiong Bahru Market, starting at around 6 a.m. The merchandise is trucked in from Malaysia in the wee hours of the morning, and is usually sold out by lunchtime. The working day doesn't end soon after, though. "We have to thoroughly clear our space after we close," says a fish vendor. "If we leave it dirty we'll get fined!"

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As the lunchtime crowd begins to drift back into their offices, the workday at the Tiong Bahru Market tapers down. With tonight's food in hand, a butcher stops to chat with a fruit stall owner before heading off. Behind the high-rise buildings, the corporate environs and the glitzy malls, Singapore's wet markets are a refreshing throwback to its humble blue-collar origins.


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As the lunchtime crowd begins to drift back into their offices, the workday at the Tiong Bahru Market tapers down. With tonight's food in hand, a butcher stops to chat with a fruit stall owner before heading off. Behind the high-rise buildings, the corporate environs and the glitzy malls, Singapore's wet markets are a refreshing throwback to its humble blue-collar origins.


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