Northern Singapore’s last fishery port

26 07 2022

Believe it or not, the northern coast of Singapore once played host to a large fleet of fishing vessels. The fleet’s port of call was at old Kangkar Villlage down the Serangoon River, located right at the end of Upper Serangoon Road. The fleet was moved to Punggol Fishery Port when that was set up in the 1980s to move the fleet and consolidate the fish wholesalers of Kangkar and also Bedok. At the point of its move in 1984, Kangkar accommodated a fleet of 90 fishing boats and 16 fish wholesalers. Another move was made in 1997 to Senoko Fishery Port, which will itself close in 2023, after which all fish wholesale activity will be consolidated at Jurong Fishery Port. The move, which in tiny Singapore terms seems to a place a world away, will bring to a close the northern coast’s longtime connection with the fishing and the fish wholesale business.

The entrance to the port.
The floor of the wholesale market at Senoko Fishery Port.

The link that it has with old Kangkar does mean that Senoko has become home to a tightly-knit community of fish wholesalers who are of Teochew origin. Several of Senoko’s businesses have their roots in Kangkar’s fishing fleet operators whose boats would spent 3 to 4 days fishing in the waters close to Horsburgh Lighthouse (on the island of Pedra Branca). Over the years, close ties have been forged between the businesses which span several generations and what that does mean is that in Senoko there is a spirit of cooperation rather than competition. The closure of Senoko will thus not only bring a huge dose of sadness to its business operators but surely bring to the end that sense of community and that “kampung spirit” that is quite clearly evident in Senoko.

While the atmosphere in Senoko, which supplies a small portion (some 4% in 2020) of Singapore’s chilled seafood imports, certainly does come anywhere close to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market — with which it has often been compared to, visiting it is a must due to its impending closure. As with Tsukiji, visits have to be made at an ungodly hour, in the wee hours of the morning. That is when its offerings, which are now imported mainly from Malaysia and other parts of Asia, come in and when the regular buyers come to obtain their supplies. There may also an opportunity to purchase seafood at wholesale prices, although one has to be prepared to buy in larger quantities with some exceptions, and be armed with an ice-box. While the port may be accessible to the public (you will need you NRIC and it is opened from 2 to 6 am except for Monday mornings), getting to Senoko may proof difficult. There is however an opportunity that presents itself for a guided visit during the My Community Festival. Organised by My Community, the annual festival runs from 5 to 21 August 2022 and offers programmes that provide a host of unique experiences — including visits to both Jurong and Senoko Fishery Ports and also Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre (for vegetables).

Lian Yak Fish Merchant, is the oldest of the businesses. It started business way back in 1955 and operated a fleet of fishing vessels out of Kangkar Village.

More information on My Community Festival can be found at

Seafood is sorted into baskets for buyers.
Crustaceans are among the items on offer.

More photographs of Senoko Fishery Port


The SS2 market

8 09 2018

Photographs taken during a walk around the SS2 market in Petaling Jaya. Operating under the shelter of parasols and tarpaulins, the market is  one of only a handful of open air wet markets in Petaling Jaya.



Pasar Kranggan, Yogyakarta

8 12 2013

A visit to any Southeast Asian town or city is never complete without the experience of  a wet or traditional market. The market is often where the colour and life of a city can best be captured and I often enjoy a walk through one as I did on a recent trip to Yogyakarta in Central Java. One of the markets in Yogyakarta which does deserve a visit is Pasar Kranggan which can be found just down Jalan Pangeran Diponegoro from Tugu Yogyakarta (Yogyakarta Monument).

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The wet market at SS2 Petaling Jaya

23 06 2013

Wet markets in Singapore, although still very interesting and colourful, do pale in comparison to the wet markets found around much of Asia. Wet markets are very often, around where life in the community it serves revolves. It is often where, when on the road, I would try to visit to provide me with a sense of a place and its people. I managed a visit to two markets during a recent trip across the Causeway, not perhaps to give me a feel of the place, but more to remind me of how we in Singapore used to be.

A "carrot cake" vendor.

A “carrot cake” vendor – markets are always where a burst of colour can be found.

A fishmonger.

A fishmonger.

One of the markets I visited, a very popular one at Sea Park in SS2 Petaling Jaya,  is an open air market – its hawkers operating under colourful shelters of large parasols and tarpaulins, is perhaps reminiscent of some of the street markets which once did exist on the streets of Singapore, minus perhaps the smell one never failed to catch a whiff of.

The SS2 wet market is reminiscent of the street markets found on the old streets of Singapore.

The SS2 wet market is reminiscent of the street markets found on the old streets of Singapore.

A dry goods vendor.

A dry goods vendor.

The market, as many in Asia, is also where live produce is sold – clucking and quacking poultry, wriggling eels and frogs in cages a common sight. A sight that is not for the faint hearted is the sight of the frog vendor skinning frogs alive.

Live frogs on sale.

Live frogs on sale.

The market does perhaps lack the disorder of the street markets of old – licensed hawker stalls are organised in sections depending on what they sold and orderly queues forming at the popular ones have increasingly become a common sight, although there were a few where the crowd seemed to be in the disordered order that would once have been commonplace.

A poultry seller with freshly slaughtered chickens and ducks on offer.

A poultry seller with freshly slaughtered chickens and ducks on offer.

A cooked food section next to a dry sundry section.

A cooked food section next to a dry sundry section.

In my wanderings around wet markets in Singapore and Malaysia, I often look for specific reminders of the wet markets I do remember. One trade which did fascinate me when I was young was the Indian wet rempah (spice paste) mixer, who would get to work mixing a paste made of some of the colourful array of pasty spice arranged around him or her, depending on what the customer related as to what he/she wanted to prepare. That I have not thus far been successful in locating, although I have come across a few spice powder mixers around. One Chinese vendor in the SS2 market did come close, she did have in addition to the colourful selection of dry powdered spices, have a few pre-mixed pastes of wet spice on offer.

The rempah vendor at SS2.

The rempah vendor at SS2.

Bamboo pau (steamed buns) steamers.

Bamboo pau (steamed buns) steamers.

Walking around I did catch a glimpse of a sight which did always catch my eye as a child – the preparation of dough fritters. Although this can still be observed in Singapore, the cubicles our market hawkers now operate in are opened to prying eyes only from one end and it is hard to observe the preparation in the same way I would have as that wide-eyed boy.

One other sight which did fascinate me as a child was the how dough fritters would be prepared and fried.

Preparing the dough for making dough fritters (You Tiao or U Char Kway)  – one other sight which did fascinate me as a child was the how dough fritters would be prepared and fried.

Cutting the dough.

Cutting the dough.

Deep frying the dough in hot oil.

Deep frying the dough in hot oil.

Dough fritters almost ready to be drained and sold.

Nicely browned dough fritters almost ready to be drained and sold.

It is perhaps a matter of time before wet markets in Malaysia, as they are in SS2, fall victim to progress as many such markets in Singapore have. Until that time, however, they will be there for some of us in Singapore to remember how life for us might once been.

More than just fishy business

16 01 2013

The wet markets we find in Singapore today are much more orderly versions of the wet markets in that Singapore I that grew up in. Yesterday’s markets were always lively, serving not only as places to obtain fresh produce during a time when refrigerators were less common, but also as places where people could come together at a social level. In the age of refrigerators and supermarkets, wet markets are today a lot quieter and are now much less of a focal point. Many come to life only during the weekends and just before festive occasions. Despite this, wet markets are however still very much a sensory treat and wonderful places to discover the texture, colour and smell of a Singapore which through these markets we cling on to. One market I particularly enjoy visiting is Tekka Market. The market had in its previous incarnation been one I have long held a fascination for, its passageways filled with the wonderful aroma of spices and the sight of mutton vendors standing over logs which served as chopping blocks. Finding itself across the road from where it originally was, the market is one which still attracts shoppers from across the island in search of some of best cuts of beef and mutton; the wide selection of fish its fishmongers seem to have more of than those in other markets do; and the exotic offerings such as buah keluak that seem to only be found there.


To market, to market

25 05 2010

There are these things that you may not expect young boys to enjoy like going to the dentist, or perhaps having a haircut, or accompanying Mum to the market. I for one detested the visit to the dentist and the barber. For some strange reason though, I did, for a while at least, enjoy following my mother on her regular visits to the Lorong 4 market, which was located across the road from where we lived in Toa Payoh.

Street markets such as this one seen in Penang were a common sight in Singapore once upon a time.

Colourful street marketshad all but disappeared by the time I started accompanying my mother to the market.

Cha-kiak display at the museum.

By the time I got to do that, street markets had started to vanish from Singapore, and living in a spanking new HDB estate, we had the relative luxury of going to a covered market where market vendors were allocated a cubicle like space, complete with electricity and running water, from which they could sell their goods. Still though, going to the market could really be a rather unpleasant and sometimes traumatic experience for a four year old boy, having to tread over the wet slippery and rather messy looking floor tiles, at the risk of not just slipping and falling, but also of having ones toes being stomped on by a cha-kiak clad foot, as well as being forced to inhale the seemingly foul mix of smells that came from the live chickens and ducks, and displays of fish and fresh pork, that permeated the air. (Cha-kiaks are red painted wooden clogs that were popular as a choice of footwear for the common folk in the 1960s).

The now upgraded market at Lorong 4, Toa Payoh was a source of adventure for me some forty years ago.

Perhaps what first motivated me to follow my mother out when we had first moved to Toa Payoh, was the opportunity to put my gleaming new blue rubber wellingtons which I had acquired at a shop near the Lorong 7 market on the walk of discovery around the estate that we did upon moving in. That I insisted would have been the only way that I could keep the splatter of smelly water that would have come from trudging through the wet slippery floor. The market at Lorong 4, Toa Payoh, I was to discover, was a whole new world to explore, the sights and sounds of which are still very much etched in my memory. There would be fishmongers chopping, scaling and gutting, chickens being slaughtered by having their necks slit and drained of blood before being put in some cylindrical metal contraption that de-feathered the chickens, and fishballs being made by hand on the spot.

Live poultry in cages were once a common scene at the wet markets in Singapore.

The fishball vendors would sell a variety of foodstuff with displays of cubes of tofu soaking in water, and soft ones displayed on a platter, salted vegetables being soaked in an earthen pot of brine, and there would also be fishballs soaking in a basin of water which would be scooped up, water and all to be packed into a plastic bag. Fishballs were made in a trough on the floor outside the stalls, and I usually enjoy watching fish being scraped into the trough by a person sitting on a wooden stool, before being mixed with flour. Another thing that I was usually fascinated with was the spice vendor who could be seen mixing his colourful rempah (dry powder or wet paste of mixed spices) from which was always accompanied by the whiff of the wonderful aroma that came from the spices. What I never enjoyed being close to, was a quadrangle at centre of the market which was under a skylight which I suppose also served as an air well. The quadrangle was divided into four stall lots, with each occupied by chicken sellers and bounded by chicken cages filled with live chickens and ducks, which could be picked out, weighed and slaughtered. There was always the overpowering smell of chicken waste that filled the air (despite the ventilation offered by the air well) that I never liked taking in.

Chickens were slaughtered in the quadrangle of space at the centre of the market building below the skylight, now occupied by dining tables and chairs.

The skylight over the centre of the market building today.

The highlight of the trip to the market was always at the end of it, once my mother had finished her shopping. She would always sit me down for my favourite bowl of piping hot fishball kwayteow mee (noodles) for breakfast, which went for 50 cents a bowl then. That was a time when you could get a small portion of fried carrot cake for 20 cents, which was served on a leave. It would be 30 cents if you wanted egg fried with it or you could have a choice of saving on the price of the egg by bringing one of your own. Back then the market was laid out in such a way that the cooked food stalls were placed along the periphery facing the outside, such that tables and chairs could be arranged in the open spaces around the market building, so having breakfast there was always alfresco.

The periphery of the market building was were the stalls selling cooked food were, with tables and chairs laid out in the open spaces around the market.

One thing I noticed outside the market was the daily get together of elderly men who wore their shirts unbuttoned, exposing the white undershirts or singlets that they would wear underneath, as they sat sipping their coffee from the saucer. It was common back then to drink out of the saucer, as it allowed the hot beverage to cool more rapidly. On the warmer and muggier mornings, many of these elderly men would sit in their undershirts which would be rolled up exposing their bellies. Something else that was commonly seen was the numerous Nepali vendors who displayed their wares on a piece of cloth that was laid on the floor outside the market. You could see a variety of goods being laid out, including leather belts, belt buckles, trinkets, amulets, gemstones, cigarette lighters and a myriad of other small items.

The open spaces around the market used to be filled with tables and chairs and was where elderly men gathered sipping coffee from saucers, sometimes with their undershirts rolled up over their bellies.

The area where you might have once be greeted by diners having breakfast sitting and Nepali men laying sheets on which wares they were selling were displayed.

I did stop accompanying my mother eventually, perhaps when I was about five, not because I got bored with the market, but because she found me to be quite a handful as I would stop to look at whatever caught my attention. There was one occasion, when watching a fishball seller scraping fish, which his daughter who was about my age, somehow didn’t take kindly to. She gave me a hard push and I landed backside first, into a basin of brine and salted vegetables. So it was, that my adventures at the market ended, as abruptly as it had started, and all I could do then was to wait patiently in the relative safety of my home for the tiffin carrier of fishball kwayteow mee, with its lid overturned so as to hold the cut chilli that was usually served with it, that my mother would take back with her from the market.

The market aisle where I had my baptism of brine, where there used to be a row of fishball sellers on one side and vegetable vendors on the other.