Monday, December 8, 2008

My Town Market; Hong Kong Street Markets

Image of an old granny resting in her market stallDear Gentle Reader,

While there are many supermarkets around town, and spanking new groceries, the markets which your scribe considers super are outside on the street, or under the overpasses.

The market that we are visiting today is in Jordan, Kowloon here in Hong Kong.

I have mentioned before that rent in Hong Kong is expensive (kidneys for rent...).

Well, if you have temporary digs in the street, then rent is a lot less expensive

If the seller's costs are lower, then the seller's prices can be lower. So sellers in street markets have lower costs, lower prices, and tend to sell pretty good volumes; this is productive selling, Gentle Reader.

I wish your nose could be brought along to my market; there is a pungent mix of scents which I would like to share with you.

The sickly sweet smell of organic decay hangs in the air because it is so hot that organic molecules start breaking down quickly.

Various floral notes from the fruit stalls hang high in your nostrils while the sweet protein of dried fish slides below the fruit and vegetal notes but well above the bass of earthy notes created by tables of mushrooms and root vegetables.

Finally, splashes of pork and beef daub the inside of your nostrils liberally to round out the palette of nasal flavours.

And, of course, there is a tang of sweat in the air from massed humanity. It cooks by the lights, under the tarps, that protect from excess sun or rain.

Every market has its own smells that change by the hour and by the season. Similarly, each country has its own "market smell" because each country has its own national diet and its own required ingredient list.

I know that my description of the nasal flavour notes in the markets sounds unpleasant, especially when broken down to its constituent parts, but the whole mass of notes is striking, like Mahler's Second.

It might not be to everyone's taste, but is is undeniably symphonic in its complexity, and, personally, I love the smells of markets.

Besides, the combined scent effect of the market is muted by the carbon dioxide which also gathers under the tarps where the people haggle in a symphony, or cacophany, of mock surprise, outrage, and shouted demands.

Everything is touched, everything is squeezed.

Every colour, texture, prospective flavour, and individual scent is appraised and contrasted with the expected final price.

Relationships between individual sellers and buyers seal some deals, while some are always hungry for a bargain.

This haggling, frequently seen as a low-class, rural bumpkin behaviour in Hong Kong, which boasts rather ordered haggling, has become more common as Hong Kong has slipped into recession.

Hong Kong's behavioural shifts in her markets may augur a thrift that is both second-nature and anathema to Hong Kong's people.

The potatoes, peas, and Taro roots shown in the top image were all inexpensive, but I never did figure out the per kilo price on the Granny...

In Chinese communities there is a tendency towards agglomeration for almost all goods.

Agglomeration refers to the economic practice of competitors setting up shop beside each other. This allows for greater price comparison and greater price competition for the consumers, but it also makes it easier to set floor prices for sellers and it helps drive up foot traffic.

Image of people walking through a market
People who come to a certain district, say the food market area are likely to buy, not simply to comparision shop. They walk into four stalls knowing the price will be the same, and they find the selection or the service that they like the most.

So meat is sold in neighbouring meat stalls.

Image of a meat market
And fish is sold in neighbouring fish stalls...

Image of a fish market
Note the hygenic conditions... cook well... is it any doubt that with the phenomenal population density of Hong Kong that viral threats are not uncommon?

Ever wonder where the Asian flu strains come from each year? Or where SARS came from, or at least where it exploded in public health practitioners' consciousness?

Your Heroine, Hero, and scribe are all at ground zero...

Chris, Regina, and Pommes

PS You may be wondering who is shopping in these markets when I previously said that large numbers of residents do not have usable kitchens in their apartments. With seven million people in Hong Kong there are also a number of people that do have usable kitchens. Also, all of those restaurant owners have to shop somewhere... these markets are where the restauranteurs and chefs shop.


debra said...

My post is up, Chris. I will be back to read :-)

Cloudia said...

Wonderful post, Chris!!
I could smell the symphony; like out Chinatown but BIGGER!
You are with the CDC or something, aren;t you?
Mahler-like writing, hero.
Best to heroine & Tuchesse.
Cambodia post tommorrow?

Barbara Martin said...

Excellent post, Chris. The descriptions brought the imagery in with clarity. I feel like I've been there.

Junosmom said...

I loved this post, Chris! Your imagery brings it right to my front door. Great writing!

pattinase (abbott) said...

The exoticism of Hong Kong is enticing.

Glennis said...

Fantastic, the only way to shop when there is amarket available. There are only tiny markets in our town but we visit them regularily, I even used to have amarket stall selling vegetables and fruit, plus jams and pickles made from excess produce after the stall finished. I ran this stall for 5 years and made a fortune.
Nothing as exciting as your market though.

Sepiru Chris said...

Hello, Back from Cambodia, updating all my comments for the last week or so...

Cheers Debra, I caught you too!

Cloudia, Thanks for the comments. Not with the CDC, *grin*, just a scribe with polymath tendencies...

Cambodia posts will begin tomorrow...

Wow, thanks. Hope your nose survived...


I brought the market to your front door? You're sure that it is not the chickens...

I am so pleased that you enjoyed it...

I am totally with you. I love food, and cooking, so therefore I love markets. Ramp your front porch production up, Glennis, and go for it again...