Whats the Deal With Hong Kong’s Wet Markets
Ever felt curious about traditional “wet markets” across the city, where poultry dangles from shopfronts, live seafood swim in tanks, and fresh vegetables are displayed in plastic baskets – all in a no-frills setting? Well, be curious no more – we’ve made it easy for you to shop at the wet market, with the low-down on goods you can buy and how exactly you can go about it. Put off by the pungent smells? Just remember: this is your chance to buy some of the freshest produce possible. Happy shopping!
What is a wet market?
A wet market is one that sells fresh poultry, seafood, pigs and even reptiles – often live ones – as opposed to “dry” markets, which offers packaged or frozen meats. Just how fresh are we talking? It is possible to choose a fish and for the vendor to kill and scale it before you take it home. This used to be the case with poultry, too, but avian flu scares mean the practice is now largely obsolete.
Why is it called a wet market?
The name was dubbed to distinguish it from “dry” markets, AKA supermarkets and other shops where you don’t see a whole pig hanging on a shop window. You get the drill.
Where are they?
Wet markets are traditionally spread out on the street, although in recent years many of these have been moved into purpose-built structures which are under government management. Some of these are housed in the same building as traditional food stalls in what are known as “cooked food centres” – a building combining wet markets and eateries.
In these instances, these wet markets are not exclusively limited to selling “wet” goods – sometimes, you can find produce like spices and sweets in small shops, too. Nonetheless, you’ll still find open-air wet markets, such as on Canal Road market on the Causeway Bay/Wan Chai border.
What can we buy there, then?
They all offer similar goods, but some markets are more well-known than others for certain produce. If you’re looking for locally grown produce, Tai Po Hui Market is your pick – any shops here stock foods from farms in the New Territories. For seafood, Bowrington Road market in Wan Chai (located a stone’s throw from Canal Road market) is one of the best. North Point’s Chun Yeung Street, known as “Little Shanghai” due to an influx of migrants who moved into the area following the war in the 20th Century, not only has standard fare like fresh fruits and veg – but also an open-air bazaar that offers goods like household goods. Graham Street Market in SoHo, Central is particularly worth a visit – it’s the oldest surviving open-air wet market in Hong Kong and will soon closed due to government redevelopment of the area.
How do we buy stuff at a food market?
It’s not as straightforward as you think – but it’s not difficult either, once you figure things out.
The traditional Chinese measurement, catty (斤, pronounced gun) is used in most wet markets. One catty is equivalent to 600 grams. The tael (兩, pronounced leung), on the other hand, is 1/16 of a catty. You do the math!
So why should we go to a wet market – versus a supermarket?
Wet markets have a reputation for fresh produce and often unbeatable cheap prices. For Hongkongers, who love their foods alive and kicking just before being cooked and served – and a good bargain – it’s a no-brainer. That’s why despite rapid modernisation in Hong Kong, these traditional markets remain well-loved by housewives and other smart shoppers. So go ahead: don’t be intimidated, and don’t miss out!
Andrea Lo is a freelance journalist and translator based in Hong Kong. After cutting her teeth in the industry as a staff writer at a lifestyle magazine, she embraced the freelance life in 2015 and hasn’t looked back. She spends her time exploring the best of Hong Kong’s dining and nightlife scene, trialling new fitness trends, and travelling to exotic locales – all in the name of “research”.