I’m from Gen Y, but I like wet markets over supermarkets.
For one, the ingredients available at wet markets are fresher. Wet markets are also comparatively warmer. I’m not just referring to the insanely cold temperatures in the frozen food department, although that does play a role in making me dislike supermarket shopping, but the fact that the people at the wet markets are warmer.
The wet market is akin to a social congregation point for residents in the neighbourhood. Everyone who goes to the wet market regularly knows the names, or at least the faces of the stall holders. The stall holders too, know their regular customers, and even if they don’t know their patrons’ names, they address them affectionately by “Uncle”, “Big sister” and the likes. The stall holders are also willing to haggle amicably, or throw in some extra freebies. Wet markets have the personal touch that supermarkets don’t. Try that at the supermarket and you’ll probably receive some unfriendly stares.
Admittedly, I’m a typical HDB flat dweller who hardly chats with my neighbours. But it is at the wet market that I pick up bits and pieces about them. So-and-so is getting married, such-and-such sold his flat for so much… these are the types of conversations that can be overheard during the wait for the butcher to chop the pork or the fishmonger to scale the fish. (No, it’s not eavesdropping if they talk so loudly.) You don’t experience this in the supermarket, where everyone just has their backs against others while they browse the shelves.
The wet market holds so many stories about the residents that it is little wonder that even Members of Parliament (MPs) visit the market regularly to speak with the stall holders and patrons. It is here at the wet market where the MPs get a true reflection of the ground sentiments, where residents may candidly express their views in the comfort of ‘home ground’ surrounded by fellow residents, where they can get in touch with the older folks who do not have access to fancy social networking tools. One resident who wants to be known as Mr Tan lamented that he worked the nightshift and was unable to attend his MP Mr Wong Kan Seng’s Meet-the-People’s sessions. Such regular market visits allows Mr Tan to share his feedback and concerns with Mr Wong.
The Bishan-Toa Payoh MPs made their rounds again recently on 25 March 2012, whereby Mr Hri Kumar, Mrs Josephine Teo, Dr Ng Eng Hen and Mr Zainudin Nordin visited the market at Blk 282 Bishan St 23. They remained there for a whole three hours from 8am to 11am, touring the market, hawker centre and food stalls, and chatting with the residents and stall owners.
Because wet markets play such a crucial role in encouraging personal connections and interactions between our fellow neighbours and citizens, many are understandably worried that the wet markets will eventually be phased out by supermarkets. Supermarkets do provide more options for working adults who simply cannot make time to go grocery shopping in the mornings. But they will co-exist peacefully with wet markets, just like how television and radio do. Both are important sources of food, and they each provide a different shopping experience, enjoyed by those on different sides of the fence. Even celebrity cooking shows by Mediacorp feature the artistes shopping at wet markets for ingredients and not supermarkets. After all, cheerful banter with stall holders makes for good TV.
Even as more supermarkets are made available in Singapore, wet markets will continue to be in demand. The real challenge now is finding people who are willing to take over the ropes from the stall holders.
Tips for a pleasant market visit:
If you can’t bear the stink, dab some medicated oil near your nostrils, and bring some along with you.
Wear non-slip shoes. The floor can be wet and slippery, especially near the sea food section.
Wear light clothes that you don’t mind getting dirtied.
Wear a smile. You might get some bargains or gossip fodder.
– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine