Last week, I brought my younger son, R to Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre for a discovery trip. Since it was another few days leading to the much anticipated SG50 Jubilee Weekend, there is no other better time to be exploring the heritage market.
I remember my trips with mum when I was small. Dad would bring me and my siblings to admire the live aquarium fishes and and terrapins while mum shops. We would be there really early like at 7am. The whole family would then have our breakfast at the food centre above after mum’s marketing was done. Although I don’t frequently do wet marketing in the past decade, I am not unfamiliar with the job of choosing a good cut of meat or fish with the market aunties. This is all thanks to mum who imparted all her love to me.
I was expecting R to be complaining of the wet and smelly place. However, he did surprise me a little by overlooking that and displayed curiosity in what I showed him and at times, excited when he came across the big turtles and live eels in pails and tanks.
Fruits From High Above
As with all wet markets, we have the fruit stalls lined with all kinds of fruits. However, I came across a big basket of passion fruits at only $1 per kg. Having read review that the passion fruits are in season right now and very sweet, I made a mental note to return for some after I’m done with my discovery tour. However, why am I not surprised that I only remember about them only now as I’m blogging about it??! 😦
I thought these cherries were as cheap as when supermarkets did a promotion. On closer inspection, the price stated was $12 for HALF a kilogram, which works out to be $24 per kilogram which is so freaking expensive!! So ladies, don’t buy cherries from wet markets!
Dried Food Provision Stall
Nearby away from the fruit stalls, there is a row of dried goods provision stall selling all kinds of sauces, premix, and Chinese dried goods. I scoured the whole market and concluded that this particular stall at #B1-001 has the nicest-looking old ginger.
Into The Steamboat These Go!
This Yong Tau Foo stall has an impressive selection of various veggies filled with fresh fish meat. Not the Hakka kind though as those are filled with a mixture of minced pork and Wolf Herring meat (西刀鱼). If your children are a big fan of fish balls, do look out for fish balls made of Yellow Tail Fish (黄尾鱼). The fish balls are not of regular shapes – suggesting that they are hand made. They also are slightly more costly than factory-made ones but so worth it because your kids would be fighting over them! Unfortunately they were sold out when I was there so I couldn’t take a photo of it. But do go ask your friendly market fish ball seller. They would know!
This is my first time seeing Hakka handmade noodles available at wet market! These noodles are also found at the same Yong Tau Foo stall and looks to be the same kind as Kou Kee Yong Tau Foo (高记酿豆腐) and stalls selling REAL Hakka Yong Tau Foo (客家酿豆腐). Being a Hakka, I love these noodles to bits!! Recommended to eat them with minced meat. ❤
I also spotted these frozen Hakka Abacus Seeds (客家算盘子). However I swear that none of these commercially available dish can match my mum’s home made ones, no matter how “traditional” the restaurant/stall claimed theirs to be. I did a recipe post on it earlier this year.
Over at the next stall selling frozen food, I discovered all kinds of balls (steamboat kind), dried cucumber, chilli paste, otah otah, even pau (包) which were slowly being thawed. Honestly, I would never buy these products at the wet market. Just imagine there being still so much thawed food being displayed at 10am after the crowd was long gone. Would they be re-frozen again for the next day?
I SEE Food
Hopping on to the fresh seafood section, these two stalls have a long history at Chinatown wet market. Both uncles at the Toman a.k.a. Snakehead (生鱼) stall and Song fish (松鱼) stall both took over the business from their fathers who started the specialty stalls since 30+ years ago. We were there at the right time as the Toman uncle (in yellow apron) just started slaughtering a live Toman for a customer who ordered 3 whole fish. He used a metal baton and hit the fish hard on the head 4 times *ouch* before professionally using a device to descale the fish. He then proceeded to slice up the fish with swift actions using his very sharp chopper.
I took the opportunity to share with R about the amazing survival ability of Toman fish. His eyes were fixed on watching the uncle slaughter the fish after I reminded him that he had some time ago watched the video below witnessing how fierce the Toman is, even with the head chopped off. And then he kept asking me if the fish would still bite the uncle. I think he’s really waiting for the action to happen! My dad used to share that Toman fish would not die even if it’s buried in mud in dried-up ponds during drought season. Come rainy season again, the fish would just be suddenly alive. Due to the strong ability to survive even the harshest conditions, Toman is commonly used for healing purposes.
Moving forward to the other fish stalls, I spotted #B1-098 selling Wolf Herring fish meat（西刀鱼). Not sure if it’s because they have sold out mostly, the stall looked pretty empty, doesn’t it?
Judging from the number of patrons at this particular fish stall (facing #B1-098 above), the fish must be fresh and cheap?
There must be 3-4 stretches of fish stalls at Chinatown Complex Wet Market. Below are just a sampling of what else is available aside from Song Fish and Toman. There were seabass, batang, groupers, and pomfrets of all sizes. There’s just too much.
The highlight for R during the our discovery at the fish stalls are the giant grouper with thick, fleshy lips (and now he knows fish has teeth too), fat rolls of fish roes (mum used to fry them when I was small!), and the Guitarfish.
Aside from fishes, Chinatown Wet Market also has a large selection of crustaceans. The usual suspects are mud crabs, flower crabs, marine shrimps, crayfish, and the prized lobsters.
R found some terrapins in this grey pail and was very happy to show me. Frankly speaking, I thought terrapins cannot be eaten and they are not the same as those soft-shell turtles with long neck that Chinese boil in soup to become Turtle Soup. However I wasn’t able to rationalize over the housing of 5 plate-sized terrapins in a small pail if they are the stall-owner’s pet. Somebody please tell me it’s neither pet abuse nor are these terrapins supposed to be sold as food pls! They just happen to be swimming inside. Yes? >.<
We also saw live bullfrogs housed in metal cages meant to be sold. With a specimen so close, again I showed him the webbed feet and the ears behind the eyes. Some years back, we did a unit study on frogs and toads at home. I was glad that he can at least remember that frogs have webbed feet for swimming while toads have non-webbed feet.
The Best Beef Cuts
Over at #B1-119 is where I buy my chilled beef whenever I could afford to make a marketing trip here. The stall-owner Chinese lady knows her beef well and always recommend the best cut depending on my cooking needs. She speaks English too, by the way! I experienced her service once and I never patronized any other beef stall anymore. She also has Wagyu Beef for sale though I’ve not bought those cuts to cook before. I typically buy beef chuck (with lots of veins) to cook my family’s much loved one-pot dish, Chinese Beef Stew. The veins simply melt upon stewing!
Blessings From Mother Earth
We finally came to the vegetables section at the far end of the market, where veggies of all colours were neatly stacked in baskets. And when R found a potato with a face and pair of ears, he was greatly amused by it and insisted that I take a photo to show his sister.
Herbs Specialty Stalls #B1-157 and #B1-161 facing each other sells fresh traditional Chinese herbs. If I’m lucky enough to have a chance to keep some silk worms, I’d know where to look for mulberry leaves (桑叶) to feed them! Some 2 years ago I was trying ways and means to find out the source of live silk worms in order to do another unit study on it’s life cycle.
Oh by the way, the 艾草 at top right corner in below photo collage, don’t eat it! It is SUPER DUPER NOT APPETISING! Can I say it’s DISGUSTING?? I had the “privilege” of eating them cooked with fried egg omelette during both my confinement terms because it supposedly can help to rid wind from the tummy. Anyone doing confinement now game to give it a try? Just chop them into small pieces and fry together with egg. Or add into boiled soup.
There was nothing much more to see after we were done with the herb stalls. The poultry section is not happening anymore in this age ever since AVA clamped down on live slaughtering in wet markets. It was a good move with great foresight from our government considering the outbreak of avian flu in recent years in neighbouring countries. The process and visual I was exposed to when I was a primary school kid, remains priceless, and it’s something the little ones can only learn from YouTube nowadays.
Wong Loy Kee Aquarium Store
4 Sago Ln #02-119 S050004 (Map)
After having enough of dead animals and plants, let’s hop over to the neighbouring block for a few relaxing moments to watch some live fish. Whenever we are there for a meal, Wong Loy Kee Aquarium is a compulsory stop for our family. This fish shop not only have a good selection of tropical fish, they also sell some marine fishes, corals, and as well as birds and rabbits. Before we got married, my hubby actually had a 4-ft marine tank at home for some years. Not only are both of us fascinated with the reef and underwater world, our kids are equally intrigued at the multitude variant of colour display by the marine animals. We hope to sustain their interests for the love of the sea animals and to go diving with them one day when they are ready. So do remember to drop by for a free visit to the mini aquarium right in the heart of Chinatown!
I Live To Eat
Chinatown Complex Food Centre is a great place to have local traditional dishes and Singaporean street food. Being a hawker centre girl, my hubby and I did not let go of our roots when the kids came along. The kids go to the hawker centre with us for meals even though the kids complain of the smell and hygiene. This was what we grew up with and so the kids shall learn to live with. Moreover, tables now are in much better hygiene and condition compared to a decade ago – something which I believe you would concur. I shall continue the journey at the Level 2 Food Centre in another post. So stay tuned if you are keen to find out which hawker food is the most popular within the building!
About Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre
Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre (a.k.a. Kreta Ayer Market) used to be located along the road sides of Smith Street, Terrenganu Street and Temple Street during the early days of settlement. The vendors were relocated into Chinatown Complex (at the basement) upon it’s completion in 1983, and the building had also completed upgrading works in 2008. Chinatown Complex Market has a long history of Chinese heritage and is proudly one of the most exotic and largest wet markets in Singapore. Situated along the iconic Smith Street, one should not miss visiting the place for its great variety of fresh fish, shelled crustaceans and exotic meats.
Address : 335 Smith Street Singapore 050335 (Map)
North-East Line – Chinatown Station (NE4)
Last MRT service: 11.50pm
Bus stop at South Bridge Road: C2, 166, 197, NR5
This post is part of the ‘To Market, To Market’ Blog Train hosted by David & Angie at Life’s Tiny Miracles. To read about other local markets in Singapore, please click on the icon below.
Debs is a Sunda Scops Owl who married a nice British Barn Owl and is raising a trio of hungry young owlets (referred to on her blog as J, Little E and Thumper) in a highrise tree in Singapore. She blogs about her thoughts over at Owls Well. Debs is a trained medical professional who is currently training to be A Parent. Debs also blogs about her adventures abroad at Owl Fly Away.
See also Daddy Blogger Andy from Sengkang Babies, show us what his child learnt from his wet marketing tour at Cheng San Market & Cooked Food Centre.
All photos were taken using Olympus Tough TG-4 Camera for optimized exposure under indoor conditions.
~ SAys! Shirley
Disclaimer : All opinions expressed remain our own. Photographs, unless otherwise stated, belong to SAys! Happy Mums. Please do not reproduce without prior permission.