Singapore has its hawker centres and Hong Kong has its wet markets, but Malaysia is well-known for its plentiful pasar malams – a place to shop, dine, and people-watch!
A pasar malam (literally “street market”) usually opens in the evening in residential neighbourhoods. These pasar malams are also prominent in Indonesia, but my experiences of them were mainly in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. A pasar malam brings together a collection of stalls that sell goods such as snacks, toys, clothes, and ornaments at very cheap prices – although haggling over said prices is a common practice at such markets and is all part and parcel of the experience!
Despite the amazing items on sale around Kuala Lumpur, the main reason I enjoyed perusing them was for the food! In Malaysia, food hawkers that set up shop in the pasar malams are required to get a licence from local council to ensure health and cleanliness. This is good to know, although some markets are still a little on the unhygienic side. I don’t know where the best markets are in KL, but the one I liked to visit at night was at Jalan Alor, which is just around the corner from Bukit Bintang, which itself is known as the entertainment and shopping area of KL!
Pasar malams are often differentiated by ethnicity, and this is important in the cultural melting pot that is Kuala Lumpur. For example, a Malay pasar malam will often contain stalls selling Islamic books, kopiah hats, and sarongs, while a Chinese pasar malam may sell Mah Jong sets, incense, and various Chinese noodle dishes.
As well as what is shown above, I also enjoyed apam balik and fried durian on my travels around the night markets of Bukit Bintang. The food vendors are very friendly and in my experience can speak a little English if you, yourself, are not too familiar with Bahasa Malayu. For cheap Malaysian food, there is no better place to experiment than at a pasar malam!
Fruit rojak was also extremely popular in these parts (sold in plastic bags for takeaway!), but one thing that took my eye on a daytime foray to a different pasar malam (Imbi Market) was a colourful coconut sweet called apam beras, which only cost me RM1 for 5 (no more than 25p)! Needless to say, I returned on my way and bought another 5 – much tastier than kueh!
So if you’re in KL and feeling peckish, then find your nearest pasar malam! Day or night, these little local markets are a joy to be involved in, and while many of them are now aimed at tourists, there is still enough of a local interest to make it a very authentic experience when out and about in Malaysia!