It is intimidating and disadvantageous to be new to the wet market. I have had my fair share of bad experiences shopping there, which you can probably relate to as well. But hopefully by some trial and error, and with these tips, you will find what you need and develop a love for them.
1. Bring enough cash & amp; wake up early
Wet markets operate strictly in cash, so to be sure to bring enough. Though most markets open till open, I recommend going in the early hours of the morning (before 9.30am) to secure the best produce, fish or meat.
2. Blend in with the crowd
There will always be unscrupulous vendors who prey on clueless novices. Such vendors might sing praises of fish that sharp regulars would never purchase, or slip a bunch of far-from-pristine Thai basil into your shopping bag and demand for payment before you can inspect the produce. Observe how everyone dresses and acts in the wet market, and follow suit. Dress casually and comfortably—not only would your shopping experience be more pleasant, you would be able to blend in with the regulars at the market. Like the aunties at the market who would never settle for sub-standard produce, be confident and know that you deserve to get what you are paying for. While I simply ask for my poultry purchase to be bagged, aunties often request for the chicken to be deboned, minced or chopped. Observe what your rights are as a paying customer and never be afraid to inspect the produce whenever possible.
3. Don’t be a snob
Always be humble enough to talk to the vendors and listen to their advice, since they are often more knowledgeable than you. If your butcher suggests braising a specific cut of pork or if the produce vendor says, “No one bakes this type of pumpkin—you should steam it!” you would do well to listen. At the same time, remember that just because no one has done something in the past does not mean that it would not work. Also, be open-minded towards unfamiliar ingredients. No matter how unconventional or scary-looking they appear, they might be delicious. Part of the joys of the market is purchasing the underrated parts of an animal or exotic vegetable caked unappealingly in mind, and discovering that it makes for good eating.
4. Be flexible
Always be open to a change of plans. For example, you may have planned to make lotus root soup, but the lone root at the market is displaying early signs of rot. Or maybe you planned to prepare cassava fries, but when the market vendor slices off the ends for inspection, you see black streaks running through it. Be flexible enough to settle for an alternative. Also, some ingredients are seasonal or only available on certain days of the week. If you’re organising a meal, talk to the vendors in advance and ask when a specific ingredient would be available and plan accordingly.
5. Go regularly
Look for market vendors who care about selling the best produce and building a relationship with you. A good butcher or fishmonger will prepare the product the way you want and give you advice on how to cook it. When you find such a vendor, be a frequent patron of his stall. This kind of relationship takes time, but you can trust that the quality of the product you are getting will be good, and that you are being charge reasonably for it. In fact, over time, the vendors might even be willing to throw in some freebies with. Your purchase. Also, when you visit markets regularly, you will begin to familiarise yourself with the approximate prices of produce, meat or fish and be a less likely prey for vendors who are trying to make a quick buck.
This extract from "Wet Market To Table: A Modern Approach To Fruit and Vegetables" written by Pamelia Chia has been reproduced with kind permission by Epigram Books.. Get your copy here