Wednesday, October 22, 2008

To market to market...

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.
To market, to market, to buy a fat hog.
Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.

To market, to market, to buy a plum bun.
Home again, home again, market is done.

Marketing is one of my favorite activities in Kampong Cham, and there's no dearth of variety -- from the main Psah Tom (big market), a pungent labyrinthine jungle of dried shrimp, just-butchered meats, fresh fruit, cookware, clothes, to the unassuming but oh-so-convenient Psah Sala Chun (Chinese School market) where I go for fresh veg after work.

A friend of Les Frenchies at Psah Sala Chun

But my favorite place to shop is the morning market at Psah Bangkot. The real action gets started around 5 in the morning. By then, most of the greengrocers have settled back onto their heels, surrounded by their multicolored produce, the fishmongers have set out their huge aluminum basin of writhing eels and fish, the piles of pineapple are stacked just so, the squeals of slaughtered pigs have just cleared from the air, and the breakfast ladies have started to light the fires under the huge Lot Cha woks.

I park my blue bicycle in the designated area and pick up a slip from the attendant, roll up my pants, then head into the fray with my co-op tote slung over my shoulder. At this market, I have a few favorites: my pork lady, who sweats under her precious pink and white frilly bonnet as she deftly hacks and slices choice cuts with her cleaver. Then there's egg woman who runs a no-nonsense operation. I like her because she delivers my ten eggs nestled in a bit of straw, and she always serves customers in the order they come. Fair and equal.

If I need beef, I head inside where ladies perch on raised concrete stands, hunks of the good stuff hanging from hooks around their heads, viscera and other odds and ends on display in front, often a bucket with skin on a stool just in front. Some employ switches to wave away the flies, some seem not to notice, but my favorite lady keeps her choice cuts in plastic and produces them with a magic white-toothed grin when she sees me coming.

Inside, I can also get tofu, beansprouts and delicious pats of fresh snow-white noodles, which are wrapped up in giant lily-pads (lotus leaves) and deposited with titters in my canvas bag. Just down the row from the tofu, past the bags of tobacco and rolling paper, begin the stalls of housewares. Here, I'll usually stop to commisserate with another friend who asks where I'm going, tells me about an accident with her arm, and then offers me a good price on plastic bowls for my kitchen. Just a week ago, I got some great chopping knives for just $3.

This is a morning place. By 8, the market is too hot to enjoy and by 10 or 11, it's a ghostland, but in the early hours, it's a gorgeous world of mud and meat and leaves and real food.

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