You do not want to miss out on the night market experience in Malaysia. Known as pasar malams locally, night markets are available almost weekly at dense neighbourhoods, and during the Ramadhan month, similar forms of night bazaars spring up like mushrooms to cater to Muslims who intend to break their fast after the sun sets.
While tourists usually flock to the Night Market at China Town, Petaling Street for their virgin night market experience, I recommend visiting the Cheras Night Market because it’s one that locals frequently patronize and thus exudes a more authentic Malaysian night market feel. The night market at Taman Connaught, Kuala Lumpur spans a 2 kilometer length, the longest in the country and is held every Wednesday from 4pm to 11pm. While you can find quite possibly anything you want at night markets from pet clothing to books, many people visit solely for the street food, and this is a totally justified purpose.
Now night markets may be a very local experience, but do not expect the food sold here to be. Quite the contrary, the creativity of night market hawkers really shows through the staggering variety of food you can find here from coconut ice cream (made popular in Thailand) to Taiwanese fried chicken steaks. Of course do not count on these foods to taste as authentic as back in their home countries, instead try the local versions with an open heart and an adventurous spirit, and you might be surprised with the gastronomic assimilation created. Of course, it goes without saying that the Malaysian staples like the Asam Laksa, Char Koay Teow, Pan Mee, Nasi Lemak, pastries, breads, Nyonya kuih, herbal drink, fried chicken are easily found at night markets, so night markets are good places to visit if you want to try as many kinds of Malaysian favourites as possible under one roof.
For example, a long queue is always observable in front of the Ultraman Salted Egg Foods Stall of the Cheras Night Market, and it is quite understandable why. Passersby who catch a whiff of the salted egg fried chicken, squid or pumpkin cannot resist the fragrant aroma, affordable price and addictiveness of these salted egg snacks. Another popular stall at the night market is the UCO Pastry Cheesecake stall that takes pride in their Japanese Cheesecake which has an assortment of flavours such as Double Chocolate & Cheese, Green Tea Red Bean Layered, Bamboo Charcoal Cranberry and et cetera. Seafood has always been affordable and abundant in a peninsula like Malaysia, and thus grilled shellfish like oysters, clams and scallops are a popular type of street food and can be easily found at night markets.
Another food not to miss at the night market is the bursting pork ball, which bursts with piping hot soup at the first bite. A funny but interesting marketing gimmick used by the stall owner is the claim that these pork balls are so ‘springy that it can be used to play ping pong’. Mushroom buns sold at the night market also show the creative and entrepreneur spirit of hawkers in order to attract customers. These mushroom buns are made to take the appearance of mushrooms and are filled with mushroom and chicken fillings. Needless to say, these buns are a hit with the younger crowd and have made their presence known through social media such as Facebook and Instagram.
Needless to say, if ambience and comfort are important criteria to your dining experience, the night market might not be such an apt place, but if you want to indulge in vast selections of local cuisines in a single spot, a night market (the Cheras Night Market in particular), will be your perfect choice to embrace the local Malaysian passion for food.
By LIEW Jeen Vern, ASEAN Correspondent from Malaysia