If you only have one day in Singapore (like I did on this occasion) and you want a local foodie experience (as I always do), then hightail it to Tekka Wet Market in Little India, preferably with an empty stomach.
It’s lauded as Singapore’s most culturally rich market for a reason. Ethnic communities from Mandarin and Malay to Hokkien and Tamil come here to preserve their culinary cultures.
A wet market refers to a fresh meat and produce market, differentiating it from a dry market which sells durable goods. With 284 stalls, Tekka Market is the largest wet market in Singapore and I doubt there would be anything on your shopping list that you couldn’t find here. Having been renovated in 2009 it’s also extremely organised and clean. How very Singapore.
After a long stint in the northern hemisphere I was ecstatic to be presented with sky high piles of brightly coloured tropical fruits. Jackfruit, rambutans, dragon fruit, guava, starfruit, longans, mangosteens and even (hold your nose) durians.
Banana flowers and ginger flowers were stacked up next to their fruit offspring. Ginger flowers are called rojak flowers in Singapore because of their use in fruit rojak – a traditional spicy fruit and vegetable salad that also includes cucumber, pineapple, turnip, fried tofu and fritters mixed with a sweet peanut sauce.
I also spotted a thick and fleshy leaf from an aloe vera plant which would have come in handy a few days before as a soothing remedy when I burnt my hand in the kitchen.
The fish section was another favourite of mine, the sea creatures seeming a tad more dramatic than what you usually see at fish markets. Giant slabs of tuna sat next to green-lipped mussels, huge Sri Lankan crabs and baby sharks. There was also a massive meat section where butchers were happy to cut and prepare the meat to order.
I’d never come across a coconut grating machine before and unfortunately it wasn’t in action while I was there. The white floss that comes out of the machine looks like desiccated coconut but is used to create coconut milk by being soaked in warm water and sieved.
Next to the wet market is a big food court with a mix of Chinese, Indian, Muslim and Western food stalls. As much as I wanted to go crazy and try everything, I knew we had impending lunch plans so I struck a deal with my friend Alex and her son Callum to pick one thing and share.
I think it was Callum who made the call to choose prata from the Prata Saga stall. Winning decision Callum. Owner and chef Mr Zulkifli from Kerala was not only super friendly, he took the time to give me the low down on how he makes his prata, a fried flour-based pancake cooked over a flat grill.
His secrets are to make the dough the night before and once it’s cooked, to fluff up the finished product with your hands. Considering he has taught at the CIA (that’s the Culinary Institute of American not the Central Intelligence Agency) I believed every word.
There were plenty of filling options but we stuck with the classic unadorned prata, accompanied with a delicious curry sauce for dipping. The prata was crispy on the outside and airy in the middle (no doubt a result of the hand fluffing technique). Mr Zulkifli makes 400 prata a day and has been doing this for 30 years. That works out to be something like 3 million pratas!
With a flight that evening I was forced to walk away from the markets empty handed rather than with bags overflowing with fresh produce. So I’ll be back again Singapore, just you wait.