A 2am start yesterday morning heralded my new commitment to finding out where you can buy the freshest fish in Singapore. Michelle, Milly, Vi and I (Vi being Violet Oon, of Violet Oon’s Kitchen) set off with Jason, her fish supplier, to Jurong Port Authority to meet the boats as they came in with the catch of the day.
After about a 10 minute drive from VOK where we all met – roads were devoid of traffic at such an ungodly hour on a Tuesday morning – we arrived in Jason’s wagon at the Jurong Fishery Port.
Had it not in fact been for Jason, who was in possession of a crucial white swipe card, we would have been turned away; the sign displayed in the window of the checkpoint may have said ‘no photography’ but it actually meant ‘no housewives’. This was a hard core version of Billingsgate.
Once our IDs were lodged with the Port Authority, we carefully picked our way over the tarmac in the half darkness between the queuing trucks and lorries to the most enormous open sided shed that was the fish market.
It skirted the pierside which was heaving with boats, some arriving from as much as a week away at sea, all clamoring to unload their catch and get it to their particular stall. Dock workers trundelled past us at speed, pushing trollies laden with polystyrene boxes packed with ice and sea-fresh fish, some still alive and flapping.
The only obvious outsiders, we were the only group of people regularly shouted at to move; no sooner had I sleepily obliged than a cart on my other side nearly hit me. I felt like a fish out of water. I was in good company:
I had had a brief debate about my footwear as I slipped on my flipflops before leaving the house; the safest option, so I thought at the time, for a presumably wet market floor. I was expecting a few puddles but nothing like the river of icy cold fish water that greeted us. Once you were up to your ankles in it and embraced it (not much choice) you were fine.
The actual fish were so achingly fresh that they had no odour, the only really fishy smell – which considering the scale of the place and the amount of fish on the floor was pretty minimal – came from the water which I was unfortunately wading in.
Baskets of sotong (squid), tengirri (mackerel), coral tout, sharks, pomfret, parrotfish and ‘lookdowns’ (their lovely diamond shaped silvery heads force the position of their eyes in to appearing as if they’re always looking down, hence the nickname) I recognised mostly from diving.
Violet explained what the other exotic lovelies were that we hadn’t seen before, whether they were displayed en-masse on the floor or scooped in to vast bundles to be sold as a single lot.
Makan was where the fish sellers go to eat, at a nearby coffee shop serving iced coffee, nasi lemak and piping hot, freshly made prata complemented by a fried fish bought from the market. By 4am we were safely tucked up in our beds (after some rigorous feet washing on my part).
Violet Oon’s Kitchen serves fresh seabass supplied by Jason (pictured above with Violet at 3am yesterday morning) whose brothers are licensed fish buyers. He fillets and cleans all the fish he supplies, off site. Violet orders fish of around 800g from him and pan fries it, serving it up with a traditional tempra sauce made with dark soya sauce, sugar, lime juice, sliced green and red chillies and sliced onions. I’m trying it next time I’m at VOK.