Seafood straight from the Golf of Thailand is available at Ngern Wijit Market
Seafood straight from the nets is reeled right in to town at Thonburi's Ngern Wijit Market close to Wongwien Yai, where fresh catches of the day are transported direct by train from Thailand's best-known seafood port - Mahachai in Samut Sakon Province.
This market hums with the capital's restaurateurs, chefs and anyone looking for large batches of seafood, all hustling and bustling for fresh ingredients prepared exactly the way they want. Mahachai's location at the point where Klong Mahachai and the Tha Chine River meet the Gulf of Thailand makes it the richest source of seafood in the country, and Ngern Wijit Market is the place in Bangkok to sample the freshest of its harvest.
The market isn't big, but take a stroll around and you'll see that seafood of all varieties dominates the scene. From dawn, the fishmongers are busy sawing and slicing big fish like Yellow Tail, Emperor, grouper, mackerel, Cobias and tuna. There are fillets of red and white snapper packed into plastic bags ready to be cooked.
"This market has been the place for all variety of seafood for a long time because of its position close to Bangkok Noi train station with lines directly connecting the Mahachai seafood wholesale market," says Phi Noi, a fishmonger relaxing after her busy morning. "We sell all types of fish and other kinds of seafood just as they do at Mahachai, but people don't have to drive all that way. Some just call with their order - we cut and slice the fish the way they want it, too."
While restaurants find this place convenient for bulk buying, shoppers like it because it offers a better selection and deals over the grocery stores.
"Fresh markets have always been my preference for grocery shopping, despite the fact that I'm a modern woman who likes the convenience of supermarkets," says housewife Orathai, browsing for bargains. "Markets like this always offer a much fresher range of foodstuffs. And when it comes to seafood, you need to be able to trust the freshness - that's why I come here.
"And unlike other wholesale markets," she adds, "this market is convenient because it still has plenty for sale in the afternoon. Also, there are covered parking spaces for my car."
Apart from just about every species of fish you could imagine, various by-products like fish balls, the paste to make tod man pla (fishcakes) and hoi jor (tufu skin stuffed with seafood) are also available. However, shrimps, mussels and other types of shellfish are not very prominent in this place.
There's one shop that you might want to drop by - Tang Ah Pla Tu Sod, which sells steamed short-bodied mackerel, found in abundance in the waters off Mahachai. This place has been in business for 70 years, and a fixture in the market for the last 50. The owners still use coconut shell as fuel for the fire instead of gas, which they say would ruin the natural flavours of the fish. They will also choose your fish for you if you don't know what to look for.
Apart from seafood, Ngern Wijit also carries the stuff you would expect at any fresh market, like fresh vegetables, coconuts, dried products and much more. Parking is available at Taksin Soi 5 at Bt20 an hour. The best time to visit is between dawn and 11am.
Ngern Wijit Market is localed in Taksin Soi 3, next to Wongwien Yai Market near Wongwien Yai and Charoen Rat Roads. Opens daily from dawn until about 11am.
- Sirin P Wongpanit
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