The Wet Market by Oliver McKinley

If you venture deep into Kowloon and stray further and further off the beaten path you will maybe find your way into Shek Kip Mei where you can find a building of delight, of wonder, of fear and of wide eyed amazement. It is the Shek Kip Mei Commercial Centre and it is straight out of the 1950’s brutalist playbook, bristling with purpose and utility. It is one of many wet markets which are peppered throughout Hong Kong where you can buy all and sundry.

Here you can find pretty much any vegetable, animal or mineral. There are things I have bought- strange fruits, weird vegetables, suspicious baked items- of which I am absolutely clueless about. There are fruit both fragrant and exotic. The poet, Tony Harrison was, apparently, able to find Kumquats in Leeds and Newcastle, where and how I do not know, as the bitter sweet fruit for his middle age but here they are found in beautiful abundance.

Eggs in ridiculous variety, which since the descriptions are in Cantonese, I do not appreciate. Though I think I can see duck egg blue among the hen’s brown. There are salted numbers too, and other ovoid shapes coated in sawdust, which are the dreaded thousand year egg with its white transformed into brown jelly.

Further up the aisle, and I can never work out the floorplan for the market, you will find the butchers, without any refrigeration, skillfully carving up the carcasses or perhaps blow torching the hairs off a pig’s head. In another section you will find a cluster of fishmongers selling fish, alive and dead as well as all manner of shellfish. There are beautiful clams, a beautiful mossy green which when cooked turn a fantastic pink. There are lobsters, and crabs and all other sorts of marine and aquatic life including frogs.

It is all, as David Dickinson would say, cheap as chips. I suspect that the traders are inflating their price for me, though they also point at the sign and smile and it is so very cheap. The eggs are 10 dollars for ten, though you do have to bring your own tray otherwise, and as I have learnt to my own misfortune, they come in a bag. Mushrooms in fine fettle are likewise priced and all the wonderful verdant shades of the brassica family are there for a fistful of dollars.  

The smell is strong, not just at the butchers and fishmongers but throughout the whole market.  At times it can feel like entering a film set for a bygone age, with the red bakelite lights, and the tremendous noise all around but it is wicked fun. There amongst the Chinese grannies, with their floral blouses and trollies and knitted hats you will find me struggling to buy supper. I never venture in and leave without a smile.


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