A university student took me around the city of Hanoi – it was part of her college program. She took me to a jail museum. A lake. A bar hopping street. A dainty instagrammable cafe. Was fun of course – but when she asked me where to go after we finished our cuppa, I straight up answered : take me to your university and to the closest traditional wet market from your dorm. Confused, she got us a cab, got off in her university dorm. Fun, but the highlight was the tiny wet market 2 minutes walk from her dorm. That was the one day that I felt in Hanoi the most.
One of the things I had taken for granted, when roaming around without a mask was not frowned upon, would be: traditional / wet markets. Having lived in Bali for well over 7 years, I can count with one hand the number of times in a year where I shop – or just straight up visit – a traditional market. Even less now that I have moved to Canggu. Back in Ubud, most of the town happenings go down in Central Ubud, in its very center is Pasar Ubud – pretty much the most common “meeting point” in town.
A diet advice I found to be epic was: “eat anything you want, at any time of the day, but cook it all yourself”. And if I may add to that, shop for it yourself too. Just the addition of grocery shopping in your meal plan, already reinstates a step in our connection with food that the food delivery facilities has taken away. Our mindless eating habit is a result of this. We went from hunting for our food to just tapping our phone screen to have a meal. I could go on about this for pages, but I’d be a hypocrite since I too am a voluntary victim of this dark hole.
“Eat anything you want, at any time of the day, but cook it all yourself”
Traditional markets are always in my list of places to check out when I am travelling. Without a doubt it’s one of the best ways to have a raw experience of a city. The ones where people would stare at me as I take pictures, not the ones where they sell off-tuned Kalimbas and penis-shaped keychains. The ones I put a pin on would be the ones where local housewives would do their weekly groceries. And depending on the theme of your instagram – these ones most probably won’t make a good background for your #ootd.
Visiting a local cafe to interact with the local waiters or baristas is one way to do it. But do keep in mind that, the greetings, the smile, and the teaspoon next to your ceramic cup, is all SOP. Walk into a local wet market, in say Kerobokan or Gianyar, you’ll get a smile alright but you’re more likely to get nudged by every other person walking past you. Notice the different level of confidence between cafe waiters and market stall owners. Better yet, notice which feels more “scripted”? The “Hi, How are you” greetings when you walk in a cafe or the “What you need” in a market? Rude or Real?
It was in a wet market in Tana Toraja that a fellow cook and I got re-introduced to Kluwak. Just by itself, Kluwak is already a unique ingredient with a mysterious feel to it. Maybe it’s the pitch black colour, maybe it’s the hard as a rock shell – who knows. We got exposed to Kluwak in different stage of its growth, different parts of its tree, cooking methods of its leaves, and the different layers of its fruits before we get to the Kluwak seed itself. We wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near to what we discovered had we not bothered to visit the traditional market and chatted with the Kluwak seller.
In Bali, the term for street snacks is: “Jaje Pasar”, and it literally translates to : “Market Snacks”. These items are all over the island, like in supermarkets and school yards, even at the entrance of a temple. You don’t only find them in wet markets, but they are a staple to traditional markets. I’m talking about the likes of : lak-lak, daluman, cerorot, injin, sumping, begina, etc. In a “Pasar” you won’t just get to see what the locals eat, but also taste them. Notice what your town has in common when it comes to fresh produce as well as the things you have never even seen before. It’s not all about Durians. It’s also the ginger flower you see in your Sambal Matah. The tempe that is such a luxury in Europe but here they go for barely a quid. Mexicans, be glad, you will also find Chayotes, if you don’t see it ask for : “Labu Siam”.
Markets are so unfiltered that you will also get a glimpse of the socio – economic situation of the city you’re visiting. Think Sydney’s Fish Market vs Jimbaran’s fish market. One has ceramics floor, an army of uniformed staff, air conditioning, and fixed price. Whereas the latter, concrete rough puddled ground, topless dude behind the counter, but prices are mostly negotiable. Both serve the same purpose, they sell fresh produce straight from the farmers. Sure an item or two are pre-packed goods or even imported items, but the local produce will still dominate. Sydney’s Fish Market is presented as more of a grocery store, you will find sashimi grade tuna that was auctioned from the fishermen at dawn to fresh oysters that you can slurp up right there and then. On the other hand Jimbaran Fishmarket, located right by the beach where the fishermen would park their boats, is as raw as it gets. The fishermen themselves in all their salty hair glory are often the ones taunting every person that merely catches a glance of their catch of the day. Desperation? Maybe, but I think they just want to call it a day ASAP after a night shift of fishing in the sea.
“Food is believed to be one of the responsible factors that makes us human ‘a sociable being’.”
Food is believed to be one of the responsible factors that makes us human “a sociable being”. We ‘traded’ food before we could talk. Food creates events where a group of people sit together, converse, make eye contacts, share food and practice self-restraint, all of which civilize us. Sure it is convenient to do your grocery shopping online and have it delivered to your doorstep. The era we live in forces us to opt for convenience. Totally relatable. But at a time like this, when the world is forced to slow down and you have the time to smell your morning coffee a little longer, while the locals are just taking survival by the day. The least you can do is shop at a traditional market. Yes you’ll be helping their business, but it is also the moral support, the sense of normality, the sense of inclusion. Feed a family not corporations. Re-establish the initial purpose of the trend : “Farm to Table”. Purchase your produce as close to the farmers as possible.