Like artisan local butchers, fishmongers are under threat of extinction, their formidable predator, supermarkets moreover, an increasingly lazy, nonchalant consumer.
The last bastion is fresh food farmer markets and wet markets, which thankfully occupy a strategic place in practically every city, town or village in the world where savvy locals shop for produce sometimes at a fraction of the price of supermarket exploitation.
And yet different tribes behave in curious, if not bewildering ways. Take the inhabitants of London for example, who worship the supermarket chains like Tesco and Waitrose and yet there is, right in the heart of it all, one of the greatest artisan produce markets in the world, The Borough Market. Sadly, scores of Londoner’s are completely ignorant of its existence.
Here in Singapore, we have wet markets everywhere, literally dotting all parts of the island many located amongst the housing estates, and usually the best ones. Shopping and having breakfast in the markets and food stalls is an ingrained way of life for the indigenous population but even here, where food is a sport, there is a menacing threat from the supermarkets with their air-conditioned luxury and convenience and undercover parking.
However, it’s the nomadic tribes of Singapore, the hoards of expatriates that are a very rare site in a wet market. I was in Ghim Moh market this morning which was thronging with activity and yet not an Ang Mo in site. Actually, in all the years I have been going to Ghim Hoh market I have only seen one other Caucasian there; ironic really when just down the road is the largest and most prestigious International school in Asia furthermore, the prime expat enclave of Holland Village is a stone’s throw away.
Personally, I’m glad these transients who crave the supermarket isles are conspicuous in their absence, so I don’t have to jostle with designer prams or encounter the venom of Volvo driving mums in the car parks. And they all complain how expensive food is in Singapore, as the credit card chalks up what equates as a significant shareholding in the supermarket each visit, and the ruck of the checkout isles, their trolleys bloated with plastic bags ready to pollute the world.
Meanwhile, down at the civilized Ghim Moh market, I’m at my favourite fishmonger, Hock Leng, with proprietor Mr Chua sanctioning my choice of a piping fresh red snapper, caught in deep seas (local) and weighing in at 1.8kgs. As he glances at the scales, he lifts a left eye brow, and says “$18 for you”. This would be twice the price in a supermarket.
He is perhaps a little wary of me, not only as a rare Ang Mo customer, but also having been introduced to his stall by the Executive Chef of all Aman Resorts around the world, who is based in Singapore, although as you could well imagine, rarely here. Having such an intro is quite formidable, and every time I’m there with the Chef, Mr Chua is on high alert as fish eyeballs are scrupulously inspected and met with approval from the Chef. You simply cannot get a higher endorsement than that.
The selection at Hock Leng is generally high in localfish, as it should be, although certainly not leaving out some excellent catch from Australia and New Zealand. Also they have the very best sotong (squid) I have come across and always an excellent range of prawns, including fantastic large wild tiger prawns from the Andaman Sea. Local clams and swimmer lobsters are also available when fresh of the boats.
Mr Chua can also organise fresh Malaysian lobsters, great for that BBQ where you need to impress, and so much cheaper (if not tastier) than those air-freighted specimens than come halfway around the world, and clearly in first class given the prices.
My whole snapper cleaned and filleted in a jiffy, as always with a smile, I’m keeping the bones and head to make a fish stock. Actually, it’s permeating the house right now as it simmers making for a right fishy mood. Indeed I have designs for this, a curry Laksa I am going to cook up this weekend to go with some Felton Road Bannockburn Chardonnay 2009, my Must-Have Wine of the Week.
The Hock Leng Fish Stall is located at Building 20, Ghim Moh Market, Ghim Moh Road, and you can speak to Mr Chua on his mobile, 97920511, which I would highly recommend. He’s very articulate and you can have him look out for your special requirements when he goes to the fish wholesale markets in the wee hours of the morning and he has all his special connections with the local fisherman.
Yes, I know this seems to be a longwinded piece on fish, without much on fish, however the message here is universal – seek out your local fishmonger, support the artisan suppliers, go to the wet markets and stop feeding the profit margins of the large supermarket chains. Oh, and you might just enjoy yourself with a mornings outing to the market, it’s a great atmosphere.