When I was 8 years old, my parents moved our family back to their roots in Malaysia. That was also the first time I had discovered ‘pasar malam’ — whereby ‘pasar’ translates to “market” and ‘malam’ means “night” in Malay.
Once a week, my parents would take my brother and I to our local pasar malam and we would gallivant from one stall to the next until we had seen all there was to see! Back in those days, my top priority buys were Hello Kitty stationary, pirated music CD albums (e.g. the bi-monthly 90s MEGA CD collection, Michelle Branch, Britney Spears, Westlife, M2M, N’Sync, etc. Judge away ????) and of course, sweet and salty snacks that came in clear packets! Today, my pasar malam visits are more food inclined. ????
Pasar malams are commonly found around residential areas on any given day of the week depending on which neighbourhood you are in. It wouldn’t be unusual if you ran into the same stall vendors at your local Saturday pasar malam that you saw at the Monday pasar malam in a different district.
What can you find at a pasar malam? The more appropriate question would be to ask, what won’t you find at a pasar malam! Anything under the sun from clothes, toys, watches, imitation luxury goods, fresh vegetables and tropical fruit, kitchenware, cheap electrical goods, pets, pet clothes, animals such as rabbits, frogs, fish stalls, pirated CDs and DVDs, and most importantly, street food galore!
And this is where things get exciting. ???? Whenever I’m back in Kuala Lumpur, the pasar malam that I usually frequent is the Seri Petaling Pasar Malam. Most of the food stands or as locals call them, hawker stalls, are lined up one after another in the form of food trucks or food stalls that offer a variety of hot and cold delectables!
Now, where do we start? Let me introduce you to the delicious oyster omelette! Ew, how could you eat OYSTERS(?!?) from a food stall, how unhygienic! If you haven’t had a Malaysian oyster omelette then you, my friend, are MISSING OUT! Cooked right in front of you on a sizzling pan, it’s almost hypnotic watching your soon-to-be-demolished omelette come to form. And let’s not forget it has to come with a kick ass chili sauce packed in a small, clear packet tied by raffia string! The key to the perfect oyster omelette is that it’s crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside from the starch, and packed with a generous amount of juicy oysters. Ahhhhhhhh, how I miss it!
There are a couple of stalls that sell local Malay food… Nasi lemak, fried chicken, fried chicken hearts, satay meats, beef rendang, an assortment of curries… Oh the list goes on! Nasi lemak is considered one of Malaysia’s national dishes; Malays, Chinese, Indians — we all love it! Malaysians can have Nasi Lemak all day errday. We don’t discriminate; it can be had for breakfast, lunch AND dinner. Nasi means rice and lemak translates to fat. Soooo get yo self some fatty rice cos it’s seriously gooood. The rice is cooked in coconut milk and it comes with a good portion of spicy sambal sauce, fried anchovies, slices of cucumber, and a hardboiled egg. Most places offer add-ons such as a piece of fried chicken or beef rendang.
Seri Petaling is a suburb that is widely populated by Chinese-Malaysians and thus, you will find that 80 percent of the Seri Petaling Pasar Malam is flooded with Chinese-Malaysian vendors. And with that, you will find many a good food stall offering Chinese-Malaysian goodies to eat and drink!
Love dim sum? You can find plenty of steam baskets with colourful pork dumplings a.k.a siu mai for the taking!
There are also soya bean drinks and desserts such as Tau Fu Fa, soy bean pudding. It’s a smooth and silky tofu dessert that’s sweetened with either a clear or brown syrup. The syrups are usually infused with pandan or ginger. Personally, I have a weak spot for the brown syrup! Tau Fu Fa is great when it’s served fresh and hot. Some days, I leave it in the fridge overnight to have it cold the next day.
Ooh and what about dem drinks! Fresh coconut juice. Sugar cane drinks. Longan fruit drinks. Weird bitter tea drinks that are good for you. Bubble tea, freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juice. You want it, they sell it! I love me some sugar cane juice with a dash of lemon juice. It’s so refreshing! Most of these sugar cane and coconut juice trucks come prepared with their own machine that extracts juice from the sugar canes right in front of you!
And of course, there are tonnes and tonnes of local vegetables and fruits to buy, including vegetables and tropical fruits that are less commonly available in Europe and North America. I love me some papaya, dragon fruit, star fruit, jackfruit, durian, and some good ol’ guava. When you buy guava at the markets or even at fruit stalls that sell pre-cut fruit, they will always offer you a small packet of sour plum powder, which is locally known as assam powder. It’s a fruit powder dip that’s sweet, sour, and salty. I can’t have my guava without it, gotta dip the hell outta that shit!
Besides fresh fruit, you can always get fried fruit! Fried cempedak (jackfruit) or durian is some next level snack. With its intimidating and spiky exterior, durian is called the King of Fruits in South-East Asia. One either loves it or hates it. Durians emit a very distinct smell, so much so that they are legally banned from subways in Singapore! Durians are fleshy with a custard-like texture and they can taste sweet or bitter sweet, depending on the variety.
The Musang King durian variety is considered the best and consequently, it’s the most expensive. Musang King durian flesh is characterized by a deep sunflower yellow and a bittersweet taste. Not much of a durian connoisseur, I prefer the more mild D24 durian variety that has a pale, yellow flesh which is not too sweet and not bitter at all. It’s a fruit that you have to try when in Malaysia — durian or you weren’t really there!
Need your fried food fix? Choose from fried cuttlefish, fried fishballs, chicken cutlets, nuggets, fried ice cream (!!!), fried oreos and much more… No fried bugs though!
And the best fried-anything of them all: Char kuey teow noodles. Besides Nasi Lemak and durian, you’re gonna want to taste Char Kuey Teow noodles while you’re in Malaysia. Originally from the Penang state in Malaysia, you can now find these scrumptious stir-fried noodles almost everywhere in Kuala Lumpur. Wide, flat rice noodles stir fried with eggs, shrimp, blood clams, bean sprouts, sweetened Chinese sausage, garlic, and chives over a hot wok creates aromatic MAGIC! Greasy, hearty food magic that should be experienced by all. And if you like your spicy foods, you can always request them to make it kick with their homemade chili paste! Don’t be shy, request a custom Char Kuey Teow serving with or without eggs, or drop any other ingredient you’re not a fan of.
Another local favourite from Penang is Assam Laksa. Assam Laksa is a spicy and sour fish based noodle soup that the locals go crazy for. Savoury, spicy and tangy, this is my jam. I could easily eat this for days on end to the horror of my parents hah! What’s in it? Sardine or mackerel, with a heavy base of tamarind a.k.a Assam in Malay, laksa leaves, galangal leaves, lemongrass, ginger flower, chilli, turmeric, shallots, shrimp paste, and thick round noodles. When served, your piping hot bowl of spicy, sour goodness is topped off with julienned cucumber, pineapple, onions, mint leaves and chilies! A squeeze of calamansi lime juice seals the deal and you can add a side of dark prawn paste if desired. Gahhhhh, just typing this is making me salivate…
When I was younger, I used to beg my parents for snacks and candies every time we passed by a pasar malam snack stall. Sweet or savoury, you’d be spoilt for choice! I gorged my way through honey plum sweets, coffee flavoured Kopiko candies, White Rabbit milk candies, tiny round biscuits with colourful icing swirls, Haw flakes, spicy dried seaweed, shredded squid… My wondrously weird list goes on. ????
Speaking of sweets, one of my favourite Asian sweets is the Dragon Beard candy. It’s a Chinese sweet delicacy that was originally reserved for Chinese Emperors. In Ancient China, the Chinese dragon was used as a symbol of imperial power — the Chinese Emperor. Since only Emperors could enjoy this delicacy, it was said that the name Dragon Beard candy originated from the fine strands of this delicate candy found all over the Emperor’s beard.
On the outside, they look like loose, silk cocoons. Take a bite into one of these pillowy sweets and you’ll be greeted with the taste of toasted peanuts and sesame seeds. The fine strands of the Dragon Beard candy are made from melting a combination of sugar and maltose syrup and then chilling it to form an elastic lump of sugar dough. Once chilled, it is dipped into toasted glutinous flour and then shaped into a ring. Next, the ring gets twisted and stretched repeatedly over itself, furiously multiplying the sugar strands until they are hair-like! Making Dragon Beard candy is a dying art so if you ever get to try one of these pillowy delicacies, DO IT! Unfortunately, they don’t keep well and melt pretty easily with humidity so eating them fresh is best. These puppies never last over a day with me!
Pasar malams are packed with people and since it’s outdoors, you’ll have to bear with the humid heat. The beauty of pasar malams is that you can buy a bunch of snacks and eat them as you stroll. Alternatively, you can plop yourself onto dinky chair to enjoy a hot bowl of noodles with strangers or you can get whatever your stomach desires to go in a doggy bag. You can bargain with the local vendors for a fitting price or just walk down a few stalls to find the same item at a better price. Whether you’re shopping, “window-shopping” or simply enjoying the many food stalls, there’s something at pasar malams for everyone!
May The Pinchables Be With You,
Location: Jalan Radin Tengah, Sri Petaling, 57000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Hours: Every Tuesday, from about 6pm to midnight
Tips: Cash only