Quaint farmer’s markets hawking punnets of handpicked berries and radiant heirloom tomatoes are often what come to mind when thinking of farm-to-table concepts. Pamelia Chia goes local and sets her eyes on rose apples and jicama at our humble wet markets.
Wet Market to Table
AT A GLANCE
Singapore does not usually come up in conversations about countries that champion food sustainability.
It’s not without good reason; according to 2018 statistics from the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, we imported 90 percent of all our food. As less than one percent of our landmass is arable land, it’s a long road ahead to achieve an islandwide farm-to-table movement.
That didn’t deter Pamelia Chia. A food scientist by trade, Chia made her first foray into professional cooking when she joined Candlenut, the first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant in the world, in 2016. Now based in Melbourne with Wex Woo, her agricultural scientist husband, Chia’s passion and knowledge for regionally sourced fruits and vegetables has culminated in her first cookbook.
Wet Market to Table is a deep dive into the shrinking, and often, unexplored world of Singapore’s wet markets, with stories of market vendors interspersed among her recipes. Chia has separated her recipes into 25 ingredients: under-the-radar regional fruits and vegetables that were commonly featured in the recipes of our forefathers. Chia breathes new life into these traditional ingredients through innovative and modern recipes.
For those who eschew wet markets for the air-conditioned comfort of Cold Storage and the convenience of Redmart (myself included), Chia’s book offers a plethora of practical tips on navigating wet markets, such as the best timings to visit and how to interact with vendors. Within the colourful pages are heartwarming profiles of vendors she knows, including young fishmonger Jeffrey Tan from Beo Crescent Market and veteran butcher Edward Tan from Kovan Market.
The level of detail that Chia goes into sharing each ingredient’s traits, historical and cultural background is laudable, including tips on how to select, store, prepare and cook them.
Many of her visually captivating recipes blend these traditional ingredients with modern, Western cooking techniques, resulting in innovative dishes like the Upside-down Lotus Root Cake and Salmon Laab Carpaccio, which made it difficult to narrow down what I wanted to try. Ultimately I settled on her Sai Ua Scotch Eggs and Palak Paneer Gnudi. Chia’s scotch eggs uses fingerroot in the sausage mixture, a ginger-like root commonly used in Thai and Javanese cuisine that lends a subtle spiced, lemony flavour to dishes. It added much needed balance to the heavily seasoned meat, and I thoroughly enjoyed cutting into the runny yolk nestled within. (Her parboiled egg timing is spot-on.)
The next ingredient I tackled was Malabar spinach. While not a ‘true’ spinach, the purple stemmed leaves are often used as a substitute in India, and are a natural thickener and sport a citrusy flavour. Her Palak Paneer Gnudi is a play on North Indian saag paneer, substituting the Indian cottage cheese with Italian-style gnudi. While her homemade cheese recipe was a fun experiment, I found the spinach sauce to be slightly lacking – my guess would be the omission of certain Indian spices like garam masala.
I looked to a dessert next and found myself staring down a meticulously crafted Jambu Galette. I had only had crunchy and astringent raw jambu before, and was surprised that cooking it results in a smooth tenderness akin to cooked apples.
I never thought I would see the day that I would be excited to cook with ingredients like taro or celtuse, but Wet Market to
Table does an excellent job of sparking interest in these oftforgotten ingredients. This book will help readers to look at these ingredients with the same reverence as a roma tomato and watermelon radish. It is a must-buy for anyone looking to explore the dwindling but fascinating world of wet markets.
Wet Market to Table retails at $44.90 from Epigram Books. #01-01, Huggs-epigram Coffee Bookshop, 45 Maxwell Road Online: shop.epigrambooks.sg
Author Pamelia Chia