Judging by the popularity of the Malaysian night market or pasar malam, it’s safe to say that this form of trading is here to stay despite the surge of shopping malls in the country.
Markets of any kind are often representative of a country’s culture and the way of life of its citizens. Markets essentially bring together traders, ordinary people and children, either for a simple errand or a journey to discover delicious food and local goods.
Some of the more well-known night markets are in Taiwan and Hong Kong, but Malaysians believe their country offers some of the best night markets – known locally as the pasar malam – to rival their counterparts in Asia.
Survivors in the concrete jungle
One would think that shopping at night markets would lose its appeal in a country where shopping malls are fast emerging. But judging from the crowds, the pasar malam is here to stay.
Bangsar Baru’s night market is one of many examples of how a pasar malam survives in a rapidly developing city. Hundreds of Bangsar residents and tourists flock to this night market weekly, to buy groceries, have a meal or simply soak in the colourful atmosphere.
The term night market does not necessarily mean that the market operates solely during nightfall. As early as three in the afternoon, access to main roads are closed, so that stall owners or hawkers can start setting up their stalls, umbrellas, tables and flourescent lights, and start displaying their goods and produce. The stall owners start this early and trade late into the night, sometimes till 11pm or midnight.
Sunday is a popular day for the pasar malam, simply because it’s a day off and people have the time to window shop and run their weekly errands. Popular spots include Bangsar, Paramount Garden and Batu Feringghi in Penang.
Some night markets open daily such as the one in Taman Connaught in Cheras.
The pasar malam on Lorong Tuanku Abdul Rahman is believed to be the largest one in Kuala Lumpur, trading only on Saturdays.
Sometimes, depending on the popularity of the markets, one residential area would hold two night markets in a week, taking turns to capture the attention of shoppers.
SS2 is an example. On Mondays, the stalls are set up around the playground in the central area of SS2′s commercial area, attracting hundreds of patrons each week. On Thursdays, the area near the Cheow Yang shops are closed off for the second night market.
Trinkets, treasures and a whole lot more
Night markets attract people from all ages and all walks of life. Produce and goods such as vegetables, fruits, snacks, toys, clothes and all types of household ornaments are for sale at these night markets.
Patrons will always tell you that goods are slighty cheaper at the pasar malam compared with produce and goods from the supermarkets or shopping malls.
The novelty of shopping at the night markets is that patrons have the opportunity to haggle and bargain for lower prices with traders. Tourists are also advised that pasar malam offers them a chance to practice their bargaining skills with the local business community.
Treasures are in abundance in the night market, depending on what is sought. For example, in Sarawak’s Lembangan night market, patrons could possibly find jungle fruit and ferns, snakes or snails.
First time visitors to night markets are told to expect noisy, jostling crowds, and as such, are not for the claustrophic or the shopping mall addict. The colour, smells and conversations at a pasar malam offer a wonderful opportunity for locals and travellers to enjoy Malaysia’s cultures and diverse communities.