“Maloooooooo? Malooooooo?” The call rings out up and down our street every morning. At first I thought it was a friendly/potentially crazy lady yelling out “Hello Hello” to everyone in a thick Sri Lankan accent. After sticking my head over the balcony one morning I discovered that the Maloo lady is actually the local fish monger (Maloo is the Sinhala word for fish). She and her husband go up and down the streets with the morning’s catch in the back of their Tuk Tuk selling door to door. He does the grunt work chopping, scaling, gutting and she does the spruiking, weighing and haggling.
After many months of watching this process, I decided it was time to make a contribution to the local economy. I’m sure she had seen me most mornings peering over the balcony while having my morning coffee watching as she went about her business. So when I eventually turned up on street level she knew she was in for a deal. Lying in the back of the Tuk Tuk was a huge tuna minus its head (the head was kept in a plastic bag, but I’m not sure for what purpose), 5 snapper looking fish, 3 seer fish, a dozen blue swimmer crabs and a bag of sprats. After much internal deliberation over which fish looked the freshest (and less likely to give me food poisoning) I picked up one of the snapper looking specimens. Up on the scales it went, half a kilo, the price 400Rs ($3.30). Not too bad I thought, it was a deal. Her husband promptly scaled, gutted and filleted the fish for me. As he flicked it into a plastic bag for me to take home I told him I didn’t want the head. He looked at me with shock and muttered something in Sinhala. He probably said, “Moron, that’s the best bit”.
On the way back to our apartment our security guard (who used to be a fisherman) asked me how much I paid. “400Rs for 1/2 a kg” I said proudly, thinking that was a good deal. He was furious at me. Apparently it is about half that price at the supermarket and cheaper still at the fish market. What a sucker. I don’t know why I thought I would be anything but.
When we got to work I proudly began telling anyone who would listen how much of a local I was with my Maloo purchase. After a short discussion about what fish I got and a quick bit of ‘Google Images’ (it turns out it was a white mullet not a snapper), I got asked my price again and this was met by roars of laughter.
That night we cooked up my over-priced mullet – not the best, not the worst. It did make the lettuce taste better. But one thing is for sure, I definitely need to do some better haggling next time.