Wet markets need extreme makeover

They can thrive if they evolve to stay relevant to youth

Many youths see wet markets, like this one at Block 267 in Serangoon Avenue 3, as novelty items ? nice to have around but irrelevant to their lives. — ST PHOTO: TERENCE TAN

UPON hearing the news of the impending sale of five private wet markets to Sheng Siong, they embraced, then wept.

The tofu seller, who had just told her customer of 15 years the news, said: ‘We have known each other for years, we see each other four times a week, and we know the names of each other’s children.’

The women, in their 50s, said in Mandarin: ‘It is not just about the loss of a wet market.’

To their generation, wet markets are where friends catch up while haggling over vegetables, while requesting that the curry paste be made stronger, or while waiting for the chicken to be chopped up.

Then, there’s how the youth see wet markets: as novelty items. At best, they are like outfits from the 1990s stashed away in closets – irrelevant but comforting to have around. While we nurse a soft spot for them, we rarely use them.

The truth is, the thought of venturing into those poorly ventilated, smelly outlets makes our stomachs churn a bit.

We’d rather breeze through air-conditioned supermarkets. They are dry and friendly to high heels.

Still, wet markets can thrive if they evolve to stay relevant to youth.

Take Hong Kong’s historical four-storey Central Market, the city’s first wet market in the central district’s prime business area. When it emerges from redevelopment in a few years, it will be an ‘urban oasis’ for space-starved, downtown workers. In its new incarnation, it will have floor space reserved for leisure activities as well as rooftop greenery.

Or consider the produce markets of the West. At London’s fashionable Chelsea Farmers Market, the farmers offer pots of fresh herbs, organic produce, meat and dairy products, as well as tasting samples. They truck their produce to the site, showcase their specialities, and even throw in freebies with a purchase. It’s friendly, personalised service – a relationship-based shopping experience.

I’d wager that many young people still hold wet markets dear, but luring them in will call for some reconceptualising.

How about a breakfast bar that serves local coffee and kaya toast, or vegetables labelled in English? Or delivery services for heavy items such as rice or potatoes?

And, oh, how about dry floors?

If even impractical, 1970s-style thigh-high boots can make a comeback here in the tropics, surely there’s a way to put wet markets back in vogue too.

See also : Space for wet markets

See also : Wet markets make a world of difference

Source : Straits Times – 26 Oct 2009

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