Thursday, August 14, 2003

Night Markets

One of the things I missed most while studying the States was the visits to the weekly pasar malam (night market). Although I had a 24hrs convenience store selling my favorite bagels just a block away from where I lived in Madison back then, the experience cannot be compared to the hustle and bustle of the night market in Malaysia. I always try to tell my work colleagues who travel to Malaysia to take some time out of their schedule to experience it first hand and most of them report back to say that it was a truly unique experience for them.

Almost on any night of the week, there is a night market happening somewhere in the city. They are usually found in or near the suburbs where many of their customers are people who live around the area. Near the place I live, for instance, there are actually 2 night markets in a week and they are well frequented by people staying close by. On the designated days, selected areas are closed off so that the night market traders could put up their stalls and ply their wares. This usually happens around 6pm and by 8pm the area would usually be full of people. Depending of the area, night markets can be a very colorful and noisy event. This would often continue until just before midnight in most areas. The ones near my apartment are usually pretty subdued affairs but I’ve been to a few that could easily be mistaken as a street carnival.

The types items that are on sale at these night markets would usually depend on the income bracket of the majority of residence of the area. Some might markets may carry more expensive or exotic items if the area is known to be more upscale or frequently visited by expatriates. Some would be less so since they don’t have the market for expensive items so the choice of which night market to go to would depend on what one would like to purchase. What is common in any night market is the availability of local delicacies on sale for consumption. I actually believe that night markets are where the best local Malaysian foods are sold. For one, the food sellers can only depend on word of mouth to build a reputation for good food so most of the time they would make sure that what they have to offer is of the best quality. Of course Malaysians are also spoilt in the choices of cuisines that are available to them and this is no different at any good night market. With good quality foods that are affordably priced, it is no wonder that night markets are seen as a boon to the young and single working individuals.

I have to acknowledge that night markets are not unique to Malaysia alone. I have been to night markets in Hong Kong that I must admit are equally interesting and colorful. What is very unique to Malaysia is how the night market becomes the focus of the neighborhood where people of all races come together to buy daily items, food for the family dinner or just to enjoy the ambiance. The sights and sounds on the night market could be strange to some people who have never experience it but it would be a shame for any visitor to our fair country to miss it. If nothing else, one would be able to experience a little of the essence that makes up Malaysia by experiencing a stroll through the colorful and noisy pasar malam.

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