Talk about Market Forces!

The freshest produce – so fresh, the chickens are still squawking in their cages – and the latest gossip await at the market.

We all remember waking up early in the morning as kids to accompany our mothers to the neighbourhood wet market, treading on slippery floors (especially if you’re near to the butchers’) and taking in the overwhelming sights, sounds and smells.

They are the anti-thesis to the clean, dry and air-conditioned aisles of modern supermarkets filled with packaged and neatly arranged meat and vegetable produce. A wet market is always loud, frenetic, dirty and, well, very wet.

Apart from amazingly fresh produce, these markets provide chances for social interaction. As each caters to a proximate community, relationships are formed over time: observe the mock rivalries between neighbouring vendors, the banter and haggling between housewives and traders, and the candid chit-chatting sessions of familiar faces.

A visit to the wet market is a wonderful opportunity for sensory exploration: the wild assortment of colours, from the gold of ripened bananas and papayas to the fiery pink of ginger torch flowers and charcoal black century eggs; the various languages spoken and the telling klok-klok-klok sounds of clog-wearing aunties as they hustle by; the savoury scent of food from nearby hawker stalls and the acridity of discarded fish, meat and vegetables – as well as the pungency of the occasional durian.

Most of Penang’s wet markets open before the break of dawn and close oftentimes by noon. The earlier you come, the better your chances of getting the freshest produce. There are only a few markets that open in the afternoon, such as Lebuh Cecil Market and the Batu Lanchang Market, which do business from 2pm to 7pm.

But once you get used to side-stepping puddles, dodging trays of hot coffee, wiping the spittle that escape the mouths of animated vendors and exchanging money with hands dripping with fish juice, it is an amazing experience.

Dan Lee graduated with an M.A. in International Relations from Kyoto, Japan. His passions include exploring new places and photojournalism. In his spare time he tends to his garden.

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