Almost every weekend here in Penang, I usually go to pasar (Bahasa Melayu for market, marché, mercado, palengke) in Bagan Ajam; that’s only a 5-minute-1-bus-ride away from where we live in Butterworth. My usual Saturday or Sunday starts when I hop on the Rapid Penang bus at around 6:30AM and finish buying everything that our budget allows at less than an hour. I go to the public market alone and purchase the ingredients we need that would be good enough to last about one to a week and a half of consumption. Tina’s wifely weekend duties begin after I arrived home as she lords our kitchen when she washes, slices, marinates and prepares everything that I bought.
And just so you know, located in front of our building’s apartment is a row of shops that includes a few mini-pasar (mini-mart) where we also source some of our needs whenever our pantry runs out.
Because of the proximity of the Bagan Ajam public market from our home and the availability of mini-mart downstairs, we rarely go to other pasar particularly in the island (Butterworth’s located in mainland Penang). But last weekend was exceptional. I killed the curiosity in me after finally discovering the charm of the public market at the heart of George Town. I liked most things I saw in the stalls of Chowrasta and Kuala Kangsar Roads.
After riding the bus and the ferry from Butterworth to George Town, I walked unhurriedly after hopping off the Rapid Penang Bus #202 at Jalan Penang to Jalan Chowrasta. I arrived in the famous Pasar Chowrasta situated right at the center of Penang’s UNESCO World Heritage Site early at 7:30AM, still with less crowd and blessed with a fine weather.
“Uncle, can I take a photo of you?” I asked the old Chinese-Malaysian old man who seems to have mastered the art and skill of spring roll skin making through his years. With a quick glance at me and a smile, he nodded. Correct me if I’m wrong, but he must be one of those they called, Living Heritage of Penang.
Funny to recall that during our first few days of living in Penang, we didn’t even know where to buy spring roll skin or what we call in the Philippines, “balat ng lumpia”. Apparently, the stalls in Pasar Chowrasta that overflows to Chowrasta and Kuala Kangsar Roads have more to offer than spring roll skin. From fresh produce to dry goods, the possibilities of going home with an empty pocket is highly.
If you come to Pasar Chowrasta with an empty stomach, worry not and remind yourself that you are in Penang – Malaysia’s gastronomic paradise! Having a growling stomach isn’t an issue here because even with only one ringgit, there’s a Nasi Lemak bungkus that could be satisfying. The problem always lies on difficulty of choosing from the wide variety. Almost every corner has stalls and eateries that offer ready cooked and freshly-prepared tummy fillers good for either dine-in (as they say here, “having-here!”) or takeaway. Surely, there’s something for everyone even for those with most discriminating taste.
I didn’t go inside the building of Chowrasta Market itself and was content with everything along Jalan Chowrasta and Jalan Kuala Kangsar. The scene and the sight brought me back to my days in the Philippines where I used to frequent the streets and stalls of Ongpin, Binondo, Divisoria (our country’s versions of Chinatown and huge public market) and Quiapo located at the heart of Manila.
I should’ve brought reusable shopping bags and extra money with me. Perhaps, next time. My aim was actually to capture what this market is all about and I went back to Pasar Bagan Ajam the following day as usual.
Those tiger prawns looked fresh! And everything else appeared so inviting to be sampled.
Textiles, shirts, undergarments, potted plants, cut flowers are sold side by side with chicken and pork and even frogs (not in photo).
Dumplings made on the spot. Must be delicious!
I looked at my wrist watch and it said 9AM. Time to eat my breakfast. I’m very predictable. Throw me a plate of Char Koay Teow and a cup of coffee and I am a happy man!
In less than 5 minutes, I’m done eating. But I wanted more! I’m craving for something. So I walked back to Jalan Chowrasta and went to a parking-lot-looking eatery that’s strategically tucked along the road. The stall that sells potted leafy and flowering plants greeted me.
What to eat? What to eat? I’m craving for….hmmmm. *light bulb on!* DIM SUM!
I asked the lady who sells dim sum if they’re open on Sunday; she said yes but they usually stop business at 12PM, so just like the one in Bagan Ajam, the public market here also closes at lunch time.
Meanwhile, here’s my Saturday breakfast #2 :
For less than 10 ringgit, I savored these delightful dim sums plus another cup of hot coffee! Oh yes, like my wife, I’m addicted to caffeine! I didn’t finish all the dim sums though, so I had a few of them as takeaway and purchased some more for Tina and Gabby.
The dim sums I bought as takeaway for my wife and kid included Hong Kong Chee Chong Fun. We used to eat it in Manila when we go to our favorite Chinese food kiosk selling Shrimp Cheong Fan. This one had Char Siew Chicken and generous shrimps as filling; wrapped and topped with roasted garlic. Served with chilli sauce and soy sauce. Yummy!
Before the clock hits 11 in the moring, I’m already home. With so much excitement, I showed Tina my photos and told her how interesting the market at Chowrasta and Kuala Kangsar Roads is!
Truly, one may learn a lot about the lifestyle, culture and people of one’s place by a simple stroll in its public market. Pasar, mercado, palengke or market absolutely defines a community!
I dare say one has never been to George Town, Penang without exploring her public market, particularly this in Jalan Chowrasta and Jalan Kuala Kangsar.
I shall come back!