top of page

The unique experience of shopping in a local Kai Si (wet market)

Walking along the steep streets of Sai Ying Pun’s Centre Street, you will never miss sight of the Sai Ying Pun wet market (西營盤街市) also known as Sai Ying Pun Kai Si. 街市 Kai si means wet market in Cantonese. For the rest of this article, we will refer to this as SYP Kai Si.

If you have gone inside any kai si in Hong Kong, you would soon notice there are mostly Cantonese speaking clients with a handful of domestic helpers. LocalHood Volunteer Malaysian by nationality, Sze Yeen, was initially intimidated to shop at a kai si with her non-native Cantonese. After a few attempts, Sze Yeen is now a regular there and has her go-to stalls to successfully purchase her grocery needs. It’s time to get this open secret out to non-Cantonese speakers in our hood, we decided!

On a not so clear Sunday morning, Sze Yeen and I took a brisk walk up the steep street Centre Street to get to our destination, Sai Ying Pun Wet Market. Seeing how it’s a Sunday we were quite surprised on how empty the “kai si” was. Our target for today was… You guessed it! FISH! So many types of fish were on display. If you didn’t have the chance to step foot into a Hong Kong Kai Si before, be warned! “IT IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART”. They sell all sorts of meat and vegetables here. Ranging from frogs, shelled fish, fish, live fish, vegetables, chicken, beef, pork and some other choices that I can’t think of right now. On the first floor of the “kai si” is where you would find most of the vegetable stores. If you do want to get some fresh vegetables that are either available all year around or only available seasonally, this is the place to go to! Most of the vendors speak some basic English. So all you really have to do is just point at the item and et voila it’s done! Wait, before you start pointing your 1 or 2 fingers (as to indicate quantity) be warned, prices indicated can either in catty, 斤 pronounced as “kan” in Cantonese or in pounds 磅, pronounced as “pong” in Cantonese. Sometimes, the items could be displayed inside a basket/tray/plate and sold as a portion 分pronounced as “fan”.

Tucked away on a not so small area on the second floor is where you can find what Sze Yeen and I were looking for today, FISH! Scattered around the floor are multiple vendors who have plenty of choices of fish that are already on display, some shelled fish, live fish, prawns, frog, eel, crab and etc. It was honestly an experience for me being in such an environment for the first time. I still recall the first time I saw the fish monger butchering the live carp in front of me many years ago. Being a FOB (fresh of the boat) newbie in Hong Kong more than a decade, it was truly an experience to watch it happen in real life. Coming back to the present, Sze Yeen and I were browsing, looking at the fishes on display. The first store had a good selection of fishes on display at their storefront, ranging from yellow croakers, red grouper, seabass, squid and the ever available pomfret.

The store which is run by a mid age couple, is very welcoming and the lady boss called Ah Lan even told us she speaks a bit of English. She was so polite and accommodating, seeing how we asked so many questions about the fish, she was more than happy to answer our questions. She told us these days most fishes are farmed and the ones caught from the wild tend to be a bit on the pricier side. She also explained to us about the annual price fluctuations during the summer. From 1st May to 16th August, it is “yao yu kei” 休漁期 i.e. fishing moratorium period. Under the moratorium, all fishing operations using trawl net, purse-seine and hang trawl were banned in order to conserve fisheries resources and promote sustainable development of the fishing industry.

While Ah Lan was chatting with us, her fishmonger husband was busy gutting and descaling the fish (see pix below). To shorten the suffering of the fish, he dispatched a quick sharp blow on the head and cut out the gill to bleed out quicker. According to Ah Lan, all local fishmongers will descale, clean and gut the fishes customers choose. Unless they are told not to, this service is rendered automatically.

Next, we made our way to the section where the shellfish are sold. Boy did they have all sorts of shell fishes available and the prices were soo affordable! Being a frequent supermarket person that I am, I was quite surprised by how fresh, readily available and affordable the prices were. There were also prawns, crab, geoducks, mussels, cockles and other shelled fish available and all of them were FRESH!

Such a sight to behold aye! Seeing how are still in the cooler season, this would make it an ideal time to get some shelled fish to cook in a nice hot pot dinner or even some pasta vongole as suggested by Sze Yeen! Just remember to check if the prices are in catty 斤 , pound 磅 or per portion 分

Sze Yeen and I continued browsing through the rest of the second floor to see what other choices of “sea food” was on offer and it really didn’t disappoint! Seeing how most of the fishes came from fisheries, the prices were mostly on the affordable side, and some of the stores had fishes and prawns in small silver plates which was on “offer”. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a whole plate of fresh prawns were priced around 50HKD! No doubt some fishes were more common than the others, some odd ones that did stick out and we had to ask the method of cooking it! The vendor told us it’s best cooked chiu chow style.

To me, this whole experience of walking around the fish market and getting to know more about the abundant types of fish we have available in Hong Kong together with Sze Yeen is truly a great experience and learned so much information about method of cooking and when the fish season starts and ends! To those of you who have not set foot into the local “kai si”, I suggest you to have a quick drop by, maybe this would change your mind and you’d end up being a frequent patron!

Only 4 Chinese words to look out for when shopping in kai si

斤- catty

磅 - pound

分- portion

元 - dollar

Other pointers 1. 1 catty = 600 grams

2. 1 pound = 454 grams

3. Some sellers start offering discount after 4 pm for perishable goods

Hopefully, after reading this article hopefully you will go to your closest wet market and live the experience at least once. It's total cultural immersion and you can come out with some yummy and fresh veggies and fish for your next meal 😁😁..


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Instagram
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
Search By Tags
Follow Us
bottom of page