You’ve got to get up early to get the good pork! So said my friend Annie while we were having drinks on Friday evening. Pork has become something that’s pretty hard to come by in my life. With a vegetarian fiancé, I rarely cook meat in our home and living in a Muslim country, pork isn’t something that’s on every menu in town. Our friend Annie is Chinese and owns a catering company; with pork ribs on her menu for the week, she said she’d have to get to the market early Sunday morning to fight the crowds for the best cuts of meat. This was definitely something I wanted to see.
I scooted over to her house at 5:45 in the morning, which was actually my first time taking our new scooter out solo. Even arriving at the market at 7:00, we had to go to three different stalls to get Annie’s preferred cuts of meat in the amount she needed. The alley was jam packed, stalls lining both sides and shoppers bustling through trying to navigate the uneven pavement that’s moist with dirty, fishy water. Baskets full of fish, tables of chicken cutlets, chops of pork and beef and even a tray of skinned frog bodies, it’s a meat lovers dream and all being butchered on site. I can’t help but think of all the chefs I know who would lose their minds after seeing the sanitary conditions, but alas, that’s how things are done here. Turn your fish bucket upside down and you’ve got a table for scaling! Set a cutting board on the ground next to a pile of trash you have an acceptable place to separate those pork ribs. Nothing is refrigerated and no one seems to mind. I imagine these markets have been operating the same way for hundreds of years, so why change what works?
Not just a meat market, there are vendors with fruits, vegetables and plenty of spices. With produce displayed on large round baskets set on top of buckets and crates, it’s the kind of rustic scene that Whole Foods stores in the US try to replicate to look authentic, but comes off as kitchy. They say necessity is the mother of invention, so yesterday’s laundry basket is today’s colorful display of bean sprouts and limes.
Periodically you’ll get tapped on the shoulder by a woman with a basket strapped to her back who wants to carry your groceries for a small fee. This woman stuck with me for a while talking my ear off in Bahasa Indonesia and ignoring my claim that I didn’t understand her. (“I don’t understand” was one of the first phrases I mastered in Indonesia.) I did manage to gather that she is 75 years old and she’s a pretty good little dancer.
After making lots of friends and getting our fill of produce, we stopped in to a Chinese market to check out their dry goods and sauces. Sauces threw me for a loop when I moved here because ketchup means soy sauce, soy sauce looks like maple syrup and on more than one occasion Joel has dumped a ramekin of what he thought was soy sauce onto his rice only to find it was straight fish sauce. It took some time, but now I can remember that it’s ‘sauce tomato’ that I want with my french fries.
With my spoils from the market, I made an amazing pork ramen and delicious shrimp and veggie spring rolls. I got Joel to try a spring roll, despite the shrimp, but he wouldn’t try a single spoonful of ramen which was fine with me. Sometimes eating separate meals works out well. I get a chance to spice up my mostly vegetarian diet with a little meat and Joel gets to order take out from Pizza Hut without me complaining. It’s the little things that make it work, eh?