The Culture of Traditional Markets: History Lessons from a Butcher in Huilong Market
Culture of Taiwan's Traditional Markets | Characteristics of Taiwan's Traditional Markets | Disappearing Traditional Markets | History of Taiwan's Traditional Markets
Compared its heydays, Huilong Market is finding it harder to attract passerby and a steady stream of patrons. The vendors instead rely on their regulars to sustain them. During Keelung For A Walk’s interview with Zhou, a butcher at Huilong Market, we spotted one of his regular calling on him during his grocery runs. This regular has been patronising his stall back when it was still helmed by his parents. The market has attracted some new customers, in part because of word of mouth recommendations. The older generations has also helped to extol the virtues of traditional markets to their children. They believe that meat from traditional markets are less likely to smell fishy or taste stale, and have urged their children to shop at Huilong Market. Sales at Zhou’s stall is particularly brisk during the Mid-Autumn Festival because of the Taiwanese tradition of eating barbecued meat then.
Zhou chatting with one of his regulars
Past and present of being a butcher: Slaughtering animals vs being a supplier
The Zhou family have been operating their pork stall in Keelung for a long time, and lived through many changes in the butchery business. When asked how Zhou performs his role as a pork supplier now, Zhou digressed, instead recounting his early beginning as a pig farmer and running a slaughterhouse. He says that the definition of being a butcher would differ, depending on whether you are young or old, as well as an industry insider or outsider. The scene of slaughtering pigs in the past would be unimaginable to youngsters nowadays, who are used to seeing pre-packed trays of meat in their hotpots and barbecues.
Before it became mandatory to electrocute pigs as a more humane form of slaughter, butchers like Zhou used to round up pigs from the pig farms themselves. Zhou recounts how he used to buy his pigs from a farm located on Nanrong Road besides Yamuliao market (likely where Longmen Village is currently located). Back in his father's time, there were pig farms around Huilong Market. People reared pigs on the banks of Tianliao river because the place was not contaminated and there was no awareness about environmental pollution. This is unimaginable for us living in concrete jungles today.
Zhou recounts that the butcher picks their pigs depending on whether they want a leaner or fattier cut of meat. Industry insiders familiar with the intricacies of meat would negotiate with the pig farmers, bargaining down the prices for pigs which are too fat or unsightly. Upon reaching a deal, the butcher would catch the pigs with their bare hands. This was a risky endeavour, as the pigs would resist, potentially injuring the butchers. The butcher would stink to high heavens after poaching the pigs. Once caught, the pigs’ hind legs would be tied up and bundled away. Zhou remarked that butchers have an easier time procuring pigs now. Thanks to the industrial-scale breeding and sale of pigs, butchers can simply go to the auction market to bid for their pigs, which will then be slaughtered, marked, and paid for. As the practice of buying and slaughtering pigs in situ in Keelung markets died out, Zhou now travels further to procure his pigs. He is now buying his pigs from Taoyuan ever since the pig farms ceased operations in Nangrong Road and Dawulun.
"I didn’t slice through this piece of meat completely. In this way, the pork cooks quickly without disintegrating.”
Zhou, who helpfully offers cooking tips, hails from Badu. Both his parents were butchers, in the early years before Hualong Market was built, and when boats could still dock at Tianliao River. Zhou's father sold pork near an italian restaurant on Ren’er Street while his mother sold pork on Ai’jiu Road (where a current claw machine shop is currently located). After the completion of Hualong Market, Zhou's mother decided to move her stall there, and was joined by his father, who closed down his stall on Ren'er Road.
After moving their stall, the next challenge was to find someone to run the family business. Zhou has many siblings - three elder sisters, one younger sister, two older brothers, and one younger brother - but wanted to take over the family business except for himself. Surprisingly, Zhou's mentor was not his father. Rather, it was his cousin, who once sold pork at Dao Xiang Xuan on Ren'er Road. His cousin taught himself how to skin the meat and remove its bones. However, such tradecraft have been dying out like traditional markets.
Zhou prepares his customers’s orders with ease
Keelung For A Walk: “Do you want to take a seat?” Zhou: “It’s alright, I’m usually on my feet all day.”
Zhou, who is in his 60s, is not fazed by the hardship of being a butcher. He took over the business after completing his military service, starting as an assistant to help debone meat, before eventually helming the store single-handedly. Besides knowing Huilong Market like the back of his hand, he has also accumulated a shortlist of where to buy the best preserved radish, eggs and rice.
One of the stalls recommended by Zhou. Photo by Ru Mengnan.
It was a common sight in the early days for vendors in Huilong Market to use the attic as their residence, as seen in this photo. Photo by Ru Mengnan.
The barber shop offers a glimpse of the variety of offerings within the market in its early years. There are still hints of these today. Photo by Ru Mengnan.
Zhou recalled how Huilong Market used to be bustling with activities around the clock. Although Zhou's pork stall starts operating at 7am, some vegetable and fish stalls start even earlier, while the tailors and hair salons start later at 8am, 9am or even 10am. Moreover, there used to be a bowling alley, a restaurant, Xin Sheng Cinema, Prince Hotel, an entertainment centre, and tea house; later New Life Cinema became Guan Hua Cinema, and then a securities firm... dance hall, later Tom’s World (an arcade) was opened, Tom’s World closed and replaced with a billiards hall, the billiards hall closed down and Da Yi Bowling Alley took its place." Mr. Zhou talks tirelessly about the changes in the shop floor above the market. Besides its bustling past, Zhou also remembers the the two fires which gutted the market. One of the fires, which was an accident, happened in 1998. He recalls how it ravaged the stalls and coated everything in a layer of soot. He also attributes this as one of the reasons for the demise of Huilong Market. Whether it be the history of butcher catching pigs, or the rise and fall of Huilong Market, Zhou, a second-generation vendor gave me a glimpse of traditional markets’ glorious past, which we will never see again.
This article is part of our series on Dairies of Huilong Market. Read more:
Text by: Wu Kuanhsuan
Interview by: Liu Shuyu
Translated by: Eileen Soh
The familiar Keelung of the past exists in my heart, and in my morning and evening commute when I smell the sea breeze. It wasn't until I entered graduate school did I realized I had never studied Keelung's history. I hope to comb through Keelung's history, translate perspectives from our foreign friends, so as to showcase Keelung’s past and present of Keelung.