How do you pick fresh fish? Will bargaining get you scolded? Is the wet market cheaper than the supermarket?

We set out to find more about wet markets in Singapore.

Growing up, my mum had always maintained that the best place to get fresh and affordable produce, fish and meat is the wet market.

A creature of habit, she has been religiously visiting Ghim Moh wet market every other day at 6.30 am for the past fifteen years.

In a bid to save some money, I’ve started dabbling in wet market shopping. It’s still a nerve-wracking experience, since I’m terrified of getting yelled at in hokkien by some irate auntie.

So, I decided to follow mama Teoh on her daily trip to master the art of wet market shopping and find out if the food there is as cheap and fresh as she says.

SEAFOOD

“More reasonable and popular fish are ang koli, snapper, or batang fish. If the fish is fresh, touch it and the flesh should be firm. The eyes should be bright, and the gills should be reddish. If they are white or dull, it’s not fresh anymore!”

Item Wet market price Supermarket price
Norwegian Salmon SGD 30/kg SGD 30.80/kg
Batang (Mackerel) SGD 16/kg for a whole fish or SGD 24/kg SGD 23.95/kg
Red snapper SGD 30/kg SGD 35/kg
Pomfret SGD 35/kg SGD 31.90/kg

Verdict: Call me biased but I never buy seafood at the supermarket if I can help it, even if some of it is cheaper.Maybe I’ve had one too many bad experiences, but have you ever walked past the seafood section at the supermarket and it just smells putrid?The fish and prawns at the market just seem so much fresher, and the variety of local fish alone is staggering. They’ll also let you thoroughly inspect each fish and will even check the clams individually for you to make sure none of them aren’t bad.

BEEF

“We still get young customers but it’s hard to compete with big operators like supermarkets who can control their prices more. They also have air conditioning, so I think more young people prefer to shop there.”

Uncle and his cousin have been selling halal beef at Ghim Moh for more than 15 years, and most of his beef is imported from Australia and New Zealand.

Item Wet market price Supermarket price
Australian beef strips for stir frying SGD 12/kg SGD 20.80-SGD 25/kg
New Zealand sirloin steak SGD 30/kg SGD 47-55/kg
Australian 100-day dry aged ribeye SGD 48/kg SGD 96/kg

Verdict: I’m floored by the selection of cuts available – everything from tenderloin to short ribs. They even have 100-day dry aged steaks! Way cheaper and I like that they’re not pre-cut, so you can choose the thickness of your steak.

PORK

“What are you cooking? Do you want to eat the meat or just use for soup? How many people? Fatty or lean?”

This shy uncle kindly spent five minutes patiently explaining to me in Chinese all the different parts of pork to use for soup, braising and even frying.

Item Wet market price Supermarket price
Pork mince SGD 8-10/kg SGD 14/kg
Pork belly SGD 16/kg SGD 17.50/kg
Pork bones with meat SGD 10.50-12/kg SGD 16/kg

Verdict: I’m quite intimidated by the pork because honestly it all looks the same and I have no idea what’s what, so having uncle explain it to me is a huge plus.

It helps that the wet market is cheaper, but it really depends on your preference.

For instance, most of the pork sold at wet markets comes from Indonesia, while supermarkets stock a lot of Australian pork.

Indonesian pork is often considered to be fresher compared to frozen imported pork, and less likely to have the strong ‘porky’ odour associated with Australian pork.

POULTRY

“I’ve been selling for 30 over years. My chicken is all from Malaysia, but they’re killed in Singapore. If you want to choose a nice one, just smell it and you’ll know if it’s fresh. Kampung chicken is better because they only eat soy and corn and don’t contain hormones.”

Item Wet market price Supermarket price
Whole chicken SGD 6/kg SGD 9.50/kg
Whole kampung chicken SGD 10/kg SGD 7.50/kg
Chicken breast SGD 2.5 each SGD 3.25 each
Chicken thigh SGD 3.50-4 each SGD 1.50 each (pack of 3)

Verdict:  If you’re after breast or thigh meat, it’s easier to pick it up at the supermarket and the price difference is quite minimal.

The cheapest option would be to buy the whole chicken at the market if you’re going to use ALL the parts, like make stock from the bones and feet. But, this depends which part of the chicken you’re after and how squeamish you are.

For instance, most supermarket chicken still has its feet and head attached (these are sneakily tucked into the chicken cavity) – talk about foul fowl.

If you just can’t deal, buy a whole chicken from the market and get the butcher to do the dirty work.

FRUIT

“I’ve been selling since 1977. Most of my fruits are from Pasir Panjang Wholesale market, but they come from all over the world.”

Item Wet market price Supermarket price
Thai mango SGD 3-3.50 each SGD 2.50 each
Zespri gold kiwis (pack of 6) SGD 6.50 SGD 7.50
Red apple (South Africa) SGD 0.50 each SGD 0.49 each

(SGD 2.95 for a pack of 6)

Pineapple SGD 2 each SGD 2.95 each

Verdict: Prices are pretty similar if you don’t include discounts, and the selection is just as good at both the wet market and supermarket.

Another advantage is that you can buy more fruits individually as compared to the supermarket, where things are often sold pre-packed in bundles.

VEGETABLES

“Most popular vegetables? My organic vegetables are very popular. For local vegetables, mostly chye sim, spinach, kang kong.”

Item Wet market price Supermarket price
Vine ripened tomatoes (apprx. 300 g) SGD 2.90 SGD 5.25
Mesclun salad (1 pack) SGD 3-3.50 SGD 3.95/kg
Chye sim (1 pack) SGD 1.20 SGD 1.95

Verdict: To be honest, I never really bother checking how much each item costs when I buy vegetables at the market but they’re definitely the best value purchase. I can usually get one week’s worth of vegetables to feed two people for under SGD 20.

If you’re looking for organic vegetables that aren’t ruinously expensive, the wet market is your best bet.

Another great thing is the freebies that get thrown in, usually small ticket items like ‘loose’ bunches of coriander and spring onions.

Fast forward to a month later and grocery shopping at the wet market has become part of my weekend routine, even if it means waking up at 7 am on Sunday for fresher seafood and cheaper produce.

That being said, when I can’t be bothered to wake up early or need to stock up on household goods, snacks and processed food, I supplement the weekly visits with a trip to the supermarket

At the end of the day, it’s a trade-off between price, freshness, and convenience.

If you’re thinking about giving the wet market a go, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Bring cash
  • Take time to build relationships with the vendors and shop around
  • Don’t be afraid to ask and be as specific as you can. Some vendors let you bargain.
  • Markets are almost always closed on Mondays.
  • Operating hours differ greatly but visiting between 6 am – 12 pm is a safe bet.
  • Some markets specialise in certain things like flowers or live seafood

*The prices listed in this article are based on our interviews with stallholders, as well as supermarket visits and online retailers.

category name: adulting

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