A wet market to wow you
Up to two dozen hawker centres and wet markets will be built in Singapore in the near future.
If you think that is "nice", "convenient" and "reminiscent of our old wet market culture", you are likely to be part of an older generation.
Informed insiders cite a problematic trend - a disconnect between the younger generation and our wet markets.
They shun them - wet markets are muggy, smelly and, well, wet. Dialects are often used in place of English.
And wet markets are not "Instagram-friendly".
Who will be going to the upcoming wet markets then? More importantly, what will be sold there?
Perhaps imported frozen meats that have been thawed, dried goods, and the usual seafood from Jurong Fishery Port - stuff you can get online and from the supermarkets.
How do you get the Snapchat generation into these wet markets then?
Look to Taiwan for a possible solution. Just look at the Shidong Market in Taipei.
The clean dry floors of Shidong Market in Taipei. PHOTO: KF SEETOH
For starters, it is air-conditioned.
It is clean and odourless despite the butchers, fishmongers, and greengrocers around.
Plus, there are little coffee roaster cafes, and a sushi bar right next to a seafood stall. Other stalls sell fruit, braised meats, cold cuts, and even wafer-thin barbecue bak kwa.
I felt like I could spend more than half a day there talking to the vendors before heading upstairs to their hawker centre - also air-conditioned - for braised pork over rice, and then popping over to the perishables and clothing stalls next door.
This market allows you to shop in comfort.
The vendors tell me they pay no more than NT$1500 (S$65) a month in rent, and the market is run by the government.
Bullhorn chestnuts that are sold at Taipei's Shidong market. PHOTO: KF SEETOH
If Taiwan can do it, so can we. Just look at some of the things you can get at this Shidong "wet market".
- There is a no-frills sushi bar nestled in the middle of the fresh seafood section. It is dry, clean, inexpensive and odourless, and you are served by friendly staff. The owner-chef will take time to explain the fishes and dishes as well as his side offerings.
- The braised meats and snacks stall offers something I adore, but had never eaten in this manner - a three-egg terrine. A cake of egg whites - with bits of century egg pressed in and topped with a layer of regular egg yolk and salted egg yolk - that has been steamed. Slice it and eat it like tapas, or have it with porridge. Fantastic.
- Some fruit vendors there slice open cherry tomatoes and stuff in a piece of preserved prune. They beat the Italian tomato and mozzarella version.
- You can also find bullhorn chestnuts, long gone from our markets. The vendors sell them with steamed peanuts and they are hearty and comforting. I remember playing with this as a kid in Singapore.
- There are a few vendors who offer dumplings. You see them making the dumplings by hand and packing and sealing them immediately. They are quick to tell you that no preservatives are used, so the dumplings can last no more than three days in the chiller.
I do not think it takes a lot to air-condition our wet markets and hawker centres.
We can do it, and if the newer generation visits, it will open up new conversations and opportunities in the hawker trade.
I hope it happens.
KF Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like food markets, his own TV shows on cable, publishing food guides, consultancy and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.