To Market, To Market

By : Soh Kum Fook
02 April 2013

If you are younger than 50, then chances are, you will have no idea what markets in the old days were like.


Why not join me as I bring you on a quick tour to the local pasar?

Here’s a picture of what a typical rural market in the 1960s looked like. Open-air, makeshift stalls that are at the mercy of the weather – muddy when it rained and hot and dusty during the dry spell. Their produce included fresh vegetables from small farms still found in pre-independence Singapore, like the bunch of rambutans in the foreground. 


From rural markets...

And these street markets...

See how packed the narrow aisles are with people jostling with their umbrellas! These traditional street markets provided a truly ‘unique’ shopping experience – slippery and congested streets, distinctive odours, and throngs of human traffic. The actual traffic flow could be restored only after the morning operating hours when the stalls were dismantled and nicely packed away, ready for business the following day.


At a time when food safety and hygiene were not top concerns, flies buzzing about were a common a sight. Exotic live animals like snakes, bats and turtles were sold for their medicinal properties. These were slaughtered on the spot when sold, just like the ducks and chickens. Those who preferred to buy ‘live’ poultry would select one from the half a dozen or so kept in a rattan coop, and carry it home where it would be slaughtered just before cooking to ensure its freshness.


...To the present markets

Markets built in the 1970s and early 1980s were quite common in the older HDB estates and many were housed under one roof together with the food centres. Many have since been refurbished with new roofs and tiling works. 


The better design and facilities ensure that the marketing environment remains clean, dry and hygienic. Along with better lighting and ventilation, there is clear demarcation to separate the different types of produce sold.


Their air of liveliness, range of produce and the opportunity to haggle over prices are reminiscent of the rural and street markets of old, and remain a draw for those who do not like the cold, friendless atmosphere of modern supermarkets.


These days, many of such markets are built together with cooked food centres. In the town where I stay, I frequent the market and food centre for my daily cup of kopi, and also just to watch the world go by, if only for a few moments.


It’s also heartening to see the mix of young and old gathered for a meal on the weekends, before they head off to the market section for the week’s groceries. It’s a truly Singaporean place where all can gather on equal terms.


Ahh, the life in an HDB heartland could not be more complete.

I’m sure there’s a market near where you stay. Why not tell us what you like about the market in your own estate? We’re always ready to hear. 






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