I arrived at 8:30am in the morning – late by normal standards to the Pasar Tani — or farmer’s market in Malay. This one was in Kelana Jaya in Selangor — 20 minutes away from my apartment.
There’s an entire cow’s carcass hanging from hooks when I arrive. Its front legs dangle down like a pair of overstuffed sausages as the butcher, gleaming cleaver in hand, deftly slices slabs of pink off its sinewy body with the precision of a surgeon. The air has the curious smell of fresh meat and the brine of seafood stalls nearby — punctuated with the sharp scent of dried salted fish.
Malaysian farmer’s markets are a regular occurrence for its residents, but to a Singaporean like myself, it’s endlessly fascinating. Scenes like this would be unheard of back home and it can be confrontational; there are palm-sized beef hearts glistening in the sun and plucked poultry sitting in a row with its claws stretched to the sky.
The sight serves as a respectful reminder that every time we eat, an animal has to die.
And then there is the sheer diversity of selection. In the seafood selection above sits two plates of mantis shrimp; more commonly seen in Singapore at top end sushi restaurants than the wet market. Below, are mounds of ikan bilis, or dried anchovies that come complete with the place of origin.
In Malaysia, the culture of eating ulam (raw local salad) — long gone in the concrete jungle that is my home — is alive and well. Still, they’re not a regular feature at urban supermarkets — a pity as these are fresh, nutritious, and most importantly, part of a foraged diet long before modern cooking techniques (like deep frying) became the norm.
Pictured here are shoots of fiddlehead ferns called pucuk paku. It’s fascinating how Asian cultures — as different as we are — have similar ingredients in our diet. In Thailand, oak ferns known as Phak Kood are commonly blanched before eating. Japan has its warabi, Korea has its gosari and in mountainous parts of China, it is known as jue cai.
There’s an entire pantheon of food that’s cooked and/or fermented in plant materials. How’s that for sustainable packaging? Below are just three examples. Left most: tapai, which comes in two variations — glutinous rice or tapioca. It is fermented for a few days until it turns soft and sweet with a slight acidity and a tinge of alcohol.
The picture on the right features two staples made of glutinous rice; there’s ketupat palas where the rice is wrapped in pokok palas leaves (Licuala grandis) and lemang where rice is stuffed into bamboo and then cooked over a low fire.
And of course, whats a trip to the farmer’s market without food. Deep fried plantain chips are available everywhere but having them warm and just off the fryer is pretty much unbeatable.