Monday, 18 October 2010

Graham Street Market

(Click image thumbnails to see a bigger version)

Just down from where we’re staying is the Graham Street market: a sloping street with every kind of food you can think of, and many you can’t. Alongside its stands of fruit, (very alive) fish, meat, bread and a whole lot of stuff I don’t recognise – seriously, they have these things which look like apples but they have spikes sticking out of them and I am not sure if it is from a tree or the sea – you can also buy slops, children’s’ clothing, toys and behind the stalls are restaurants and more shops selling food.

A view down Graham Street Market. Photo by Simon Williamson.

It’s a place raging with a bit of controversy as the market, where many local Hongkongers do their grocery shopping, is going to be razed so that residential skyscrapers (who are we kidding? That’s an average Hong Kong building) can be built.

I usually walk to work with my significant other in the mornings and his office is right at the bottom of Graham Street, where the market starts. So I always walk back up it. It is a fascinating set up – a complete balls up from the outside, until you stroll in and join the throngs wrestling their way to where they are trying to barter. The only thing I really buy here is fruit. I far prefer a quick visit to a market than a squish in the teeny tiny aisles they have here in grocery shops, and our closest decent grocery shop is about a 10 min ride up the escalator. According to a few touristy reports I have read, these kinds of markets are the real Hong Kong. The cynic in me finds that hard to believe after our experience in Mong Kok and I have a feeling that places like the Graham Street Market can help rich snooty Hongkongers feel like they are part of their own city – such as Soweto does for urban people in Joburg and Mzoli’s does for Capetonians. I certainly don’t scoff at places like these – the three listed I very much enjoy (ok I finally confess: I actually don’t like Mzolis all that much).

Above: Fish being kept alive, waiting for someone to come and buy them. Below: Fish after this process is complete. Pics by Simon Williamson.

What I cannot deny is that it is closer, cheaper and a far more enjoyable and interesting experience to buy goods in the Graham Street Market than it is in the 7-11 across the street or the Park ‘n Shop up the hill. The first time I saw live fish in the market get their heads lopped off as soon as someone wanted to buy them, or saw a crab being removed from a tank and be systematically tied up, alive, for the customer, I was grossed out. Totally. In fact it’s still something that doesn’t sit so well with the little part of my stomach that tries to prevent nausea. But here in China it is how people buy food. When in Rome... you know?

I do not believe that I am joining in some cultural recess of Hong Kong that no one outside locals manage to permeate. But I do feel like a have a foot slightly further into the East than I would have. I’d be lying if I said that grappling over a price with someone who can only speak Cantonese didn’t thrill me a bit – I’m still convinced I’m being ripped off though. I smile as they yak out words I can’t understand, and we make hand signals to each other amongst a lot of pointing and acting like the animal I wish to buy. Really though, putting my thumbs in my arm pits and clucking like a chicken is not the most absorbing way to buy food as I am one of those people who likes great distance between what is on my plate and what runs around a farmyard.

So when you people do come and visit, take your valloids before we go grocery shopping.

PS. Can anyone identify these things on sale at the Graham Street Market? I'm no foodie so am not sure.

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