Close to where Kuala Lumpur began in 1857 is a traffic-clogged square called Pasar Medan — literally, “market field” in Malay. It was here that the city’s pioneering tin miners bought their fresh supplies, and around which the early settlement too shape. In the late 19th century, the market was moved to a new site a few hundred metres away, where Central Market now stands.
Like the fume-stained clock tower in Pasar Medan, the wonderful art deco frontage you can see today dates from the 1930s. The site’s use as KL’s main market goes back to 1888 though, a function it held for more than eight decades. The sumptuous design is a clue to how highly valued the market was for much of its history.
It’s hard to believe this beautiful piece of the city’s heritage was scheduled for demolition in the 1970s, but at least it still functions as a trading hub of sorts. For the true wet market experience, the city’s biggest and best is now located in Chow Kit.
Open from 09:00 to 17:00 every day, this place is a veritable warren of stalls, selling everything from fresh food to cheap clothes. For anyone who enjoys the sights and sounds of a busy bazaar, Chow Kit is real blast.
As a source of cheap, fresh food it is hard to beat, although some stalls are not recommended for the squeamish.
Much of the clientele at the market is Malay or Indonesian, a reflection of how the area has become much less Chinese over the years. The easiest way to the bazaar is via Chow Kit Monorail station.
For the time being this market appears safe from developers, but the same could not be said of the aptly named Pasar Besar (Big Market), in the northern suburb of Taman Tun Dr Ismail. It is an undoubtedly ugly building, typical of the concrete brutalist style popular in the 1970s.
But inside, it’s a different story, filled with stall upon stall of fresh food, and plenty of other esoteric offerings too, such as hairdressers and clothes’ repairers. People come from far and wide to shop there — a testament to the quality and price of the produce on offer. The popularity of TTDI Market is unlikely to save it from demolition though.
KL’s mayor claims the building has to make way for the planned Mass Rail Transit project; in fact the line will pass nowhere near the market, as the MRT people have been quick to point out. A far more likely explanation is that the building is to make way for yet another high-end residential or commercial development.
By the time the MRT is operational (2017 supposedly), TTDI Market will probably be no more. For the time being, the only way to reach it on public transport is by RapidKL bus U82 from KL Sentral. Get off when you see the Pizza Hut on the corner.
Probably the best place to experience a night market in KL, Pasar Malam Bangsar takes place every Sunday from 17:30 to 23:00. Popular with both expats and Malaysians, the stalls offer a whole range of goods, from fresh and cooked food, to clothing and electrical products.
The advantage of being in Bangsar too is that if you get bored of the market, you have a whole host of great eating and drinking spots close by. The disadvantage is that it’s not the easiest place to get to by public transport — Bangsar LRT station is a 30-minute walk away. Probably the best bet is to catch RapidKL bus U87 from Pasar Seni, and get off at Bangsar Village shopping centre.
By Pat Fama
Last updated on 26th February, 2015.