Pasar Malam [Night Market Wanderings]

Every night all over Southeast Asia, pasar malam, or night markets, pop up in different cities and towns. On any given night in Malaysia, you can find these night markets throughout Johor Bahru and its suburbs. Our town, Puteri Wangsa, happens to host one of the larger pasar malam on Friday nights. We had gone for the first time a couple weeks ago, and returned last weekend for second look.

Here you can find everything- street food, fresh produce, clothing, household products, and even expired/discounted OPI nail polish (that one made me do a double take). I thought fondly of my cousin and her nail polish obsession as I pored over the 2RM bottles of color (about $0.61, Jaime. Don’t worry, I’ll stock up for you!).

The range of stalls and the number of people were a feast for the eyes, and Alex and I were a feast for the eyes for everyone else (not too many other foreigners here, and by that, I mean no other foreigners here). But we bargained with the best of them, chowed down on some local food and soaked up the buzzing vibe of the pasar malam.

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We tried that mystery juice during our first visit…a mystery because we did not see the giant pile of sugar cane on the ground. Anyway, we passed it back and forth, saying things like, “I think I like it,” and “I don’t think I like it,” and “I just can’t decide,” before finishing the whole thing. I think ultimately we settled on “didn’t like,” because if you have to think so hard whether or not something tastes good, it’s probably a no.

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These juices, though! These juices looked so tempting and refreshing, but of course, I had no idea what anything meant (as I now curiously Google Translate each flavor, and congratulate myself for not randomly selecting jagong, which is corn juice). So, I chose the bright pink one from the first picture:

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Watermelon! Yum! And for about $0.30!

Next, we sidled on up to the chicken satay stand at the end of the line. The conversation went something like this:

A: How many should we get?

Me: I don’t know, maybe three?

A: Okay, so six or seven altogether?

Me: Um…three to split?

A: Oh.

As it turned out, we probably should have bought the entire stand because this chicken was so good. I noticed when we had visited the first time that it was the most popular satay stand, despite being a little far from the action. For good reason!

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I don’t remember exactly how much it was, but three skewers was definitely in the 2-3RM range.

We were still hungry, so Alex picked up some mee goreng (fried noodles) from the place we had gone during our first visit. I abstained, because the innocuous-looking fried rice on the end was so spicy that I could only eat two or three bites before throwing in the towel.

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So, with Alex satisfied, we set off in search of a little something else for me to eat. But what? The choices were so abundant that it was nearly impossible to decide…Image

…not quite in the mood for mystery fried foods…

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…the smell of durian (ETA: this is actually jackfruit!) makes me sick to my stomach…

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…okay, getting closer to something I might want to try! We found a Chinese food stall, and I was intrigued by these:

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These are zongzi, a Chinese dish in which sticky rice (also known as glutinous rice, but that name is significantly less appetizing) and various meats/spices are wrapped in up in a neat little banana leaf (or bamboo leaf, or lotus leaf) package. There are tons of variations to this dish, depending on where you are in China (or Malaysia), but this one was filled with rice and BBQ pork. I really liked it, though it took me a few bites to decide. Despite having lived in Asia before, I’ve never had “real” Chinese food. With such a significant Chinese population in Malaysia, though, I’m sure there will be more Chinese food to come.

After picking up our last munchie of the night, we headed back home. Our market runs from four or five in the afternoon until ten or so at night. Some pasar malam stay open until the wee hours, and I’m sure the food is especially great after imbibing a couple Tigers. Just a hunch…

So, party people, if you found yourself at the Puteri Wangsa night market with me next Friday, which food/drink would you most like to try?

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