Saturday, August 29, 2015

To Market, To Market, No More

"Ah Boon ah ki lai liao!" (Ah Boon wake up already). This was what I dreaded to hear in the mornings during my secondary school holidays. Because that would mean it's time for me to wash up, get ready and walk to the wet market a few blocks away. You see, my dad is a butcher (a pretty lean and muscular one too) at Telok Blangah Rise wet market. My three older brothers helped out at his stall as well, with two of them ended up choosing butchering career too. I do not particularly love helping out at the stall then. I mean which kid wouldn't want to enjoy school holidays sleeping in late and playing throughout the rest of the day?

That's my dad, the butcher in his simple and basic rented stall at Telok Blangah Rise wet market.
So what can exactly can 13 year old boy do? Not exactly a lot, but it was enough to relieve his older of the more mundane tasks, so much so that they can't wait to impart to me the basic butchering skills such as de-boning the thighs, extracting the pig brain, removing and cubing the fats from the skin and washing of the innards. I needed to operate the meat mincer too. Oh, since we are at the meat mincer part, do you know that there will always meat stuck in the machine from the previous customers' purchase and those health conscious aunties who demanded the leanest cut to be minced, will always get some fats mixed into their minced meat, no matter what.

He was one of the 5 butchers in the market then, and each had his own clientele. It's hard to imagine that such a small neighbourhood can support that many butchers.
Depending on how many pigs were ordered for the day, I would be hacking their jawbones into two with an axe, and then cutting into the cheek, twisting and pulling out one half of the jawbone followed by the other half. I then had to remove the entire face by hacking away at the skull with the axe. And finally when everything is completely removed from the skull, I can then split the snout into two with the cleaver, and open it up to extract the delicate brain whole, much like opening a durian. And how much is the brain worth? Exactly 50cents. It felt kind of yucky initially but I slowly got used to it anyway. 

This was his delivery vehicle and hitching a ride to school in it was awesome!
Slicing the thick layer of fat from the skin wasn't really fun, nor easy too. Can you imagine how slimy and slippery that was? I would have to make a cut in the skin so that my glove can hold onto it before working on slicing off the thick layer of fat from the skin. But that's not all, I would then have to cube the fats before they are being supplied to the hawkers. My gloves would be all gluey with the fats after that! But that was also the yummy stuff that adds that all-important flavor to the many hawker food we eat. Think oyster omelette, fried kuay teow, bak chor mee and many more! I played a part in the local food culture okay??? Albeit a very tiny part.

I wished I could dig out more photos but these was all that's left and I wondered who took this cool photo!
All the uncles and aunties in the market know me as Ah Boon, or the butcher's son. I may have resented the need to help out at the stall then but now when I look back, growing up in the market was indeed fun. It was also where I learnt things beyond the classroom, such as customer service and the importance of human relationship. Everyone knew everyone else, and I could go to the food stalls and just order with hand gestures, and the uncles and aunties would knew exactly what I wanted and how I wanted my food cooked. I could even bring my own egg and grab some sliced pork from dad's stall to be added into my char kuay teow. Aww... wonderful memories! Now 2 decades on, I am still meeting up with the son of the hairdresser and niece of the provision shop owner! That's lasting friendship forged too!

Found a rare photo of my Dad with former Minister of State for Defence, Mr Bernard Chen.
I had moved out from Telok Blangah Rise to my own place in my early twenties and my parents had retired for years now. I wanted to snap some photos of the market now, but never had the time to document it. The last I visited it though, it was a fair cry from the bustling time of yesteryears. Gone were the sons and daughters from the estate, leaving behind the old folks who may not need to cook that much or that often anymore. The wet market is also very sanitized now, when back then, there wasn't even the requirement for a chiller. Very clean but somewhat lacking in something. Something that I can't really describe or articulate. It just doesn't feel the same anymore. It isn't the same anymore. The wet market that I knew, and grew up in, is now all but a memory from the past.

This post is part of the ‘To Market, To Market’ Blog Train hosted by Life’s Tiny Miracles. To read about other local markets in Singapore, please click on the icon below.



  1. Thanks for sharing this, some little 'behind the scene' of butchery. And it is sad to see that sense of belonging lost when a society evolves.

    So it is great that you have those photos of your father in the market. Long ago, I was a helper of my mum selling eggs in night market (M'sia), but no one had thought of taking a photo of those precious memory.

    One last thing to agree with, growing up in the market (or night market, in my context) was indeed fun. Not everyone get to experience it and look back.

    1. Thank you for popping by and reading my humble blog. I believe that the wonderful memories of you helping out in the market would still be as vivid as if it happened only recently. And I would not hesitate to do it all over again! :) How I wished I had more photos!