Saturday, 23 February 2008

Chinese new year market in Singapore

I love going to regular food markets and craft markets, but festive markets are extra special because they only appear during special occasions (such as Christmas, Chinese new year, Dewali or during other major holidays) and often have food and other products on sale specific to the occasion. They often play a major role in the build up to special holidays as people buy special ingredients and items in preperation for the festivities, or just to soak in the atmosphere and look forward to the celebrations.

Every year, the Chinatown in Singapore has a festive market in the weeks running up to Chinese new year. Stalls would line both sides of the streets, covering about 4 to 5 streets in total, hawking everything from decorative items, sweets and new year goodies, to flowers and clothing. My parents always go every year, not just to buy new year goods -- they insist that it does not feel like the new year if they do not go to the Chinatown market to experience the 热闹 (renao; literally: hot and noisy). I, too, went for a walk to get into the Chinese new year mood when we went back to Singapore on holiday recently.

Stalls line both sides of the narrow street. The existing shophouses also contain stores of all kinds so there's plenty to choose from.

Plenty of red, a lucky colour for the Chinese, to welcome the new year.

Take your pick of new year decorations for your house

Can you tell that it is the year of the rat? At only S$1 (£0.35) each, nobody has any excuse not to put up some decorations.

Traditional Chinese paper cut

Calligraphy scrolls with auspicious characters and sayings

Melon seeds are popular snacks. With so everyone making so many visits to family, relatives and friends, one must always be prepared to have plenty of food, drink and snacks on hand to serve one's guests. Therefore, food shopping is an integral part of the new year preparations.

More varieties of sweets and jellies than you could shake a stick at. Is it any wonder that kids love Chinese new year?

Business was so good that they didn't even have time to clear the boxes!

More new year decorations for only $1.

These cost a lot more than $1! They are Japanese carps but the Chinese love fish during Chinese new year. The word 'fish' (鱼) sounds similar to the word 'leftover' (余) and a common blessing is to wish that someone would have leftovers every year, meaning that they would have more than enough and would live well.

A traditional snack on sale, preserved persimmon (sharon fruit). They have been dried and then dusted with icing sugar.

It was two days before Chinese new year. Since celebrations start on new year's eve, some stalls would shut by then and have started to offer their goods at absolute bargain prices.

There's always time to grab a bite at the ubiquitous food stalls. This one sells hot dogs and Taiwanese sausages (the red ones towards the back).

A fortress of biscuits... "Mum, can we have this one?"

These are sold as 'lucky bamboo', so called because the way the bamboo twists and turns is supposed to be able to turn or change one's luck. So if you think you might have bad luck, buy a lucky bamboo to change your fortunes.

Pomelo for sale. They are rather like giant grapefruit, with the pulp being pale yellow or pink. The outer skin is thick and has to be peeled away, leaving the individual segments. Only the flesh or pulp (the sacs) are eaten.

Many different types of fruit, vegetable and nuts are dried and preserved with sugar and then served as snack. For example, lotus root, citrus peel, water chestnut, winter melon, dates, figs, mango and so on. Yes, there's a lot of sugar going on here. No one ever said Chinese new year was healthy (ditto for Christmas, Thanksgiving etc.)

More biscuit varieties that one has never heard of or seen before. New ones seem to appear every year.

With so many stalls selling sweets and biscuits, often in close proximity, competition is intense. Many use loud hailers to verbally promote their goods and prices. This stall had people literally singing and dancing and standing on chairs to attract attention/customers. Being the last days of the market, everyone was eager to get rid of their goods.

Not all food sold are for consumption. Many items are sold for decorative purposes, because they look pretty, or because of their symbolism. This is a type of gourd, called 'Buddha's hand' (佛手). They are only used for decorative purposes and people buy them for the blessing of buddha's hand to be on them and their household.

Mini gourds, also for decoration

Tiny pumpkins the size of mandarin oranges. In Cantonese, their name translates as 'golden melon' so they are very popular for those in search of wealth for the new year.

A tiny variety of madarins, popular due to their symbolism of good fortune.

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This post has been submitted to the To Market, To Market event. If you have access to a local market, or visited one elsewhere recently, why not send in an entry? It's great fun to see what markets are like around the world.


Little Corner of Mine said...

Thanks for sharing your CNY market walk, I really enjoy seeing this colorful display of food, candies, decoration...feel so festive!

Pixie said...

How exciting! I enjoyed reading about all the different items offered at the market and seeing fruits and veg I've never saw before. Thanks for sharing!

Kevin said...

Nice photos. Look at all of the bright red lanterns.

Nilmandra said...

Little corner: It was a great atmosphere. Andy really enjoyed it too.

Pixie: There were some fruit/veg that even I've not seen before! There seems to be new ones every year, rather like a change in what's 'fashionable', heh.

Kevin: There was a lot of red around indeed, being the lucky colour for Chinese new year.

A scientist in the kitchen said...

I love all the red colors!!! I love to go to Chinatown and get lost in all the shops and restaurants.

vegeyum said...

How colourful the market is. It was a real joy to read your post and visit the market, albeit virtually.

Nilmandra said...

A Scientist in the Kitchen: I love getting lost in markets in general. But Chinatowns are usually a maze of delight. Food at every corner!

Vegeyum: Thanks! I had a lot of fun taking those photos and writing about them. Loved yours from Siem Reap.

Maryann said...

I saw your entry on dmblgit and loved it. Now here I am at your site and I see even more gorgeous photos! So colorful. Great post! :)

Nilmandra said...

Maryann: Thanks! I wasn't sure about entering that photo since it wasn't a picture of a dish that I've cooked, which is more 'normal' I guess. But the gourds looked so interesting I thought, ah well, why not? :)

Anonymous said...

this post makes me miss home

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