Gallery: A Tour of a Singaporean Wet Market

  • View from Overhead

    Seafood Counter

    You can find all kinds of seafood at Tekka Center. There's squid, fish, and crabs in up front here.

    Seafood Counter

    Buyers sort through fish for the best specimens.

    Crab

    Tied up with rubber bands so they can't scuttle away.

    Fish Heads

    Fish heads are frequently cooked into curry in Singapore. Frankly, I saw a lot more fish head curry than fish body anything, so these guys definitely don't go to waste.

    Shark

    Mussels

    Floor Drain

    Wet markets are so named because the floor around the seafood section is literally wet with melted ice and other drippings. These floor drains help keep things from getting too slippery.

    Cleaver

    The standard-issue cleaver the meat men use to break down and trim meat to order.

    Freshly Ground Beef

    Though Tekka Center caters primarily to the local Indian population (who don't eat beef), it's so large there are stalls run by non-Indian Singaporeans as well.

    Fresh Tongue

    They go through a lot of meat here

    The meat stalls aren't large enough to be full butcher operations, but they can accommodate some trimming.

    Only the Finest

    Singapore hasn't had any major agriculture since the late '70's (it's been crowded out by the country's spreading urbanism), so almost all of their produce and meat is imported from around the world.

    Chicken

    Heads removed at your request.

    Sheep Heads

    Down the Produce Aisle

    Not your standard grocery aisle.

    Galangal

    A woodier cousin of ginger, with a more herbal, almost soapy flavor, used in Malay and Peranakan curry pastes and sambals.

    Spiky Squash

    Calamansi Lime

    These orange-lime-tangerine-kumquat-like fruits are one of the essential ingredients in Singaporean cuisine, from drinks to noodle dishes to desserts. Their sweet, rounded flavor and complicated fragrance improve just about everything they come into contact with. I'm kicking myself for not smuggling this box home with me.

    Pandan

    The bubble gum-ish herb that's as common to Southeast Asian desserts as vanilla is to Western ones.

    Mystery Fruit

    I'll be honest, I don't actually remember what this fruit is, but part of the fun of wet markets is the joy of discovery. Forgetting, not so much, but you get the idea.

    Pineapple

    Finally, some recognizable produce, I thought upon seeing these.

    Red Spinach

    Spice Vendor

    A vendor selling an array of spices and dry goods.

    Turmeric

    You could tell this turmeric was recently ground; the smell was incredible.

    Fresh Coconut

    A machine grates fresh coconut into snowy piles.

    Dried Fish (Big)

    Dried Fish (Tiny)

    Dried fish are treated as a main flavor, a spice, and a crunchy garnish in Singapore. They find their way into spicy sambals, rice dishes with curry relish, and all manner of sauces—to say nothing of the joy of eating them plain.

    Gula Melaka

    This unrefined sugar from Southeast Asian palm trees has a smoky, butterscotchy flavor with burnt molasses notes. It's most frequently melted into syrup to top shaved ice and cendol, but I love using it for all sorts of baking. Once you taste how raw and complex this stuff is, you'll have a hard time going back to plain brown sugar.

    Grass Jelly

    Also called "herbal jelly," this vegetarian-friendly gel is flavored with a slightly bitter Asian member of the mint family. The faint herbal taste is often sweetened with syrup for a dessert, or mixed into innumerable shaved ice sweets. Here it is in bulk form, like a wheel of black, flopsy cheese.

    Hawker Center

    Tekka Center has an adjoining hawker center, where you can find biryani, roti prata, and...

    Curry

    ....curries of all kinds.

    Teh Tarik

    Freshly "pulled" teh tarik, Indian tea spiced with black pepper and ginger. Singapore may be a kopi country, but this fragrant, delicate, heady sip is damn good. When it gets really, really hot, and even cold drinks seem to evaporate on impact with your tongue, a mug of this stuff helps you sweat everything out.

    Pulling Teh Tarik

    You'll find several tea vendors at Tekka Center. Look out for this guy, who aerates the tea by pouring it from cup to cup at a height of several feet. This is a sweet, spicy drink, but the pull makes it light and frothy.

    Outside

    Equal parts produce market, meat and fish shop, food court, clothing store, and houseware supply.

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