I picked up a book to read in the hostel the other day, and it has probably one of the best descriptions of an Asian market ever laid down on paper:
“Like many people on the island, Joe’s does not yet possess a refrigerator. Perishable foods are stored in buckets or boxes of ice. When the ice melts, the food perishes – and in hot tropical climates ice melts pretty damn fast. Consequently, we all go to the market nearly every day to buy fresh, perishable food that hasn’t perished yet.
The market generally opens around five in the morning, and by seven most of the ice has melted. The food, however, is a good deal fresher to start with than you’ll likely find in a modern air-conditioned supermarket. The plucked chickens are hanging from hooks, and their throats were cut only an hour or two before going on sale. In some markets, they’ll cut the chicken’s throat while you wait.
That’s fresh chicken.
Being so-called ‘free-range’ fowl that Western health food fanatics are so fond of, but seldom ever eat, means that these little darlings might well have been rummaging through your garbage pit only yesterday. In other words, you may have been eating bits and pieces of the same meal for a long time. Sort of like what the Spanish have been doing with sherry for hundreds of years.
The vast majority of seafood is also fresh. Swimming around minding their own business a few hours earlier, suddenly the fish are all screaming, ‘The sea is rising! The sea is rising!’ Of course, the sea wasn’t rising for the fish anymore than the sky was falling for that silly chicken. What was rising was a fisherman’s net, and then, lo and behold, the fish are on the deck of a longtail boat flopping about like fish out of water. Some of them are packed on ice, and others are put in pails of water. You can buy them dead or alive.
So far, you may be thinking these open-air markets should be closer to home. Maybe you’d like one in your neighborhood. Well that’s because you ain’t seen the flies. They’re all over the fresh dead flesh. You ain’t seen the rats scurrying along the open drainage system. You ain’t seen the scurvy dog gnawing on a buffalo bone, and you for sure ain’t seen the blood and guts of various animal kingdom creatures splattered all over every which-a-way.
The best advice when shopping at one of these markets is to get there early, get your grub, and get out. Go home, wash all the fresh meat with clean water and a little vinegar, pack it in ice, knock back a shot of whiskey, and pray you’re hungry before the ice melts.”