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What is a Wet Market?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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A wet market is an open marketplace with stalls of vegetables and other food items presented for sale. Many wet markets are found in China and the Philippines. The name is based on the fact that these informal market environments usually have wet floors. Shoppers tolerate sloppy floors and items piled on mats or boards as the foods sold at wet markets are known for their fresh quality and low price. The moisture is created by market workers regularly spraying the produce and floors with water.

The best time to go to a wet market is usually early in the morning when the foods being sold are at their freshest and the selection is wide. China has many modern supermarkets, but wet markets have the freshest foods. The foods sold at these markets are purchased each day from local farms. Each vendor sets his or her own price and shoppers look for the nicest produce at the best price. Typically, vendors at wet markets don’t like to make change, so rather than large bills shoppers tend to bring smaller denominations of paper money or coins.

Although fresh produce is the mainstay of a wet market, other food items may be sold in the open marketplace depending on the region. For instance, in some parts of the Philippines, live animals such as pigs, poultry and fish as well as reptiles are offered for sale along with vegetables and fruits. Butcher shops are often close by so the animals can be killed and prepared for eating. The practice is controversial, as some people protest against the marketplace killing of animals that are often kept in tiny cages until they are sold. Shoppers of wet market live animals tend to respond that they want to be sure their meat is of high quality and free from disease.

Yet, disease can be likely at wet markets as the open space allows insects to reach the food more easily than in walled supermarkets. Having live animals near produce and people may spread viruses. In some regions and countries, a wet market must have a license to operate as well as follow sanitation standards.

Spices are available for sale at many wet markets. For example, a wet market in Malaysia may feature vendors selling spices from bowls each containing a different spice. Some vendors at Malaysian wet markets may sell cooked produce such as sweet curried peppers.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon202965 — On Aug 04, 2011

can you please help me in my research concerning the "organization of the market place on food quality and sanitation"?

By BoniJ — On Jul 12, 2011

@BabaB - I have heard stories about these wet markets, also.

The ones I heard about were in the Philippines. The vegetables are definitely fresh and crisp. It's surprising they are so cheap, but I guess the cost of transportation from the nearby farms is not so much.

I would be a little leery of the practice of bringing live animals to market to slaughter at the nearby butcher shop and then sell at the market. It would be nice and fresh meat, but I would wonder about the less than sanitary conditions at the butcher shop.

I can just hear the banter and bargaining about the price of the products between customers and sellers.

By BabaB — On Jul 11, 2011

A relative of mine has been in China and has visited a number of wet markets in the smaller towns. She has told me about these "wet markets" - a very good name for them because the floors are always wet and slippery. You have to be careful to avoid falling.

She did buy some vegetables there and they were delicious - fresh from the farm and sprayed with water often. Since there isn't much refrigeration, the locals want their veggies fresh and they usually eat them the same day, and then go back for more the next day.

The produce is laid out on mats or racks on the floor of the market, so you have to be in pretty good shape to crouch down and pick out the best veggies!

My relative said it was a fun experience, though.

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