A Beginner’s Guide to Singapore’s Tekka Centre

29 January 2016
<p>In the heart of Little India.</p>

In the heart of Little India.

Feeling intimidated by the Tekka Centre? Not sure what to expect? We can help!

Much like the Mustafa Centre, the Tekka Centre is one of those places you have to visit as an expat. Seasoned insiders will tell you there is no other place to shop for fruits, vegetables, meats and fish. They’ll tell you the quality is better, prices cheaper and experience is more “local.” They’ll tell you newbie expats hide out in the familiar, comfortable, Western-style grocery chains, while the more informed, and perhaps more adventurous expats, brave the Tekka market. This can leave new expats with the impression that this is not a place for beginners. This is nonsense.

Here are some tips to help make your way around like a pro.

The layout:

Tekka Centre

The view from above. 

Tekka Centre

And from below.

The Tekka market is a typical, large, Asian wet market. Traditionally these markets sold live animals, freshly butchered on the premises. In order to maintain some level of sanitation, the floor were regularly hosed down — giving them the name “wet” market.

Today, because of hyper awareness of hygiene standards, most wet markets (like Tekka) no longer have live animals and are well maintained. Meats and fish are kept separate from fruits, vegetables and dry goods. The floors however remain wet (and kind of icky, to be honest. Flip flops might not be the best shoe choice.).

Because I don’t live close by, I opted not to spend too much time in the meat and fish areas. Though I did see several butchers cutting meat to order. Fish was also being gutted and scaled onsight. So, if that kind of thing doesn’t make you queasy…better luck to you!  

Meat at Tekka

For the record: I did NOT like getting this close.

Tekka shellfish

Tekka fish

Is it better quality?

Yes. There are lots of vendors selling the exact same things. Have a wander and stop where the pickings look good. Many of the vendors are very friendly and knowledgable and happy to answer questions about where the food is from and how to cook it. Almost universally, I found not only did the fruits and vegetables look better, but they tasted better. A few fruit vendors cut the fruit and let me sample before purchasing. Bonus!

Tekka produce

My best find: avocados. Perfectly ripe and flavourful — something I’ve rarely found at the chain grocery stores.

Is it cheaper?

Yes. Most stalls have prices clearly listed so you don’t get the sense you’re getting scammed. Most stalls will accept a bit of friendly bartering. They want to keep your business and sell you more so you’re best bet is to stick with one stall and ask for deals. The fruit stall I shopped at was advertising 4 mangos for $10. I ended up with 5 for $10 because I also bought strawberries (which were about half what I pay at FairPrice). The mangos taste amazing.

Tekka fruit

How do you know which stall to go to?

You don’t, until you do. You could ask for a friend’s’ recommendation but I think it all comes down to who you like. If you plan to return regularly, try developing a relationship with one stall. They’ll appreciate your business and be more likely to continue to offer you quality and fair prices.

What else can you buy?

In addition to fruits, vegetables, meats and fish, you’ll find fresh tofu and soybean products, vendors selling dry goods (organic rice, nuts, dried fruit and fish); cooking oils and sauces, fresh flowers, and spices. There were several vendors closed.

The market is two floors. In addition to the wet market downstairs, there is a hawker centre with a good selection of both veg and non-veg stalls. Upstairs you’ll find beautiful, bedazzled and colourful saris and Indian dresses, shoes, many tailors, and a couple of gift/souvenir/antique shops. (How’s the quality? Well, the sign outside one shop read, “we buy junk and sell antiques!”)

Dresses at Tekka

Shoes at Tekka

When should you go?

I was told that for the wet market, the earlier the better. I arrived around 9:30 am and there was still plenty to choose from. About one quarter of the stalls were closed and the rest were well stocked. The stores upstairs were just beginning to open around 10 am. Officially, it is open 6:30 am – 9 pm.

If you’re feeling intimidated about going, don’t. Bring a big grocery bag and a friendly attitude and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. (Oh, and don’t forget to stop at the ATM for cash. Most stall won’t take cards.)

By Kathleen Siddell, January 2016

P.S. Save some time to explore the building. You’re likely to find something interesting.

Tekka stairs

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