Century-old Chowrasta market makeover

Century-old Chowrasta market makeover

Words and photos by Phuah Ken Lin

Colourful pickles are a local favourite for visitors who have an acquired taste for the salty, sweet and sour.

All will drop in at the famed Chowrasta Market along the main road, Penang Road, in George Town before they head home.

Other favourites are the ‘tau sar peah’, packets of ‘Tongkat Ali’ local coffee for the libido-inclined, and the all-time nutmeg and its various byproducts.

Nutmegs are in preserved sliced packets, as oil in bottles, wet sweet and sourish with its distinct tangy flavour.

Stalls selling them spot a clean and brighter look after a RM13 million makeover recently that has make shopping more convenience with a multi-level car park.

The display of colourful pickles is at the entrance of the market while the ground floor of the premises is a busy wet market in the morning. Vegetables, meat and other daily essentials are separated by categories at respective sections that are easy to walk through.

The spanking new facade has been given a new breath of life to the century-old oldest market in Penang.

Upgraded features are not only the ample multi-storey car park that is serviced with escalators but has turned this once dim and dingy as a must-visit stopover for tourists.

Well lit, clear signage and better ventilation along non-slip floor make for a nice stroll while the upper floor is occupied by 22 second-hand bookstores. For the bookworms, here’s the place to look for past issues of magazines including the collectible National Geographic, novels and school reference books. With luck, you may still get the odd worn-out books of the Liverpool series.

Several shoe shops occupy remaining individual lots.

With 259 stalls inside and 70 more along its side corridors, Chowrasta flanked by four streets at all the four sides is certainly bigger and better as compared to its equally colourful yesteryears. Chowrasta was renowned with its dance floor located on the second level.

For a dollar (back then in the 70s) for 3 dances or 35 cents for a dance with a dance hostess, the floor used to be packed with the jivey Joget dance. Couples who frequented the place for social activities flaunted their dance moves amid music by silver screen legend P. Ramlee’s favourites.

The Joget is the most popular traditional dance throughout Malaysia. It is performed at cultural festivals, wedding celebrations, and other social functions. Its origin has been traced back and associated with a Portuguese for dance which was introduced to Malacca during the era of the spice trade.

The dance floor in Chowrasta closed in the late 1990s.

Chowrasta Market was a collection of stalls back in the 1890s located strategically at the junction of Jalan Penang, Lebuh Tamil, Jalan Kuala Kangsar and Jalan Chowrasta.

The modern market building was built in the 1960s and was the country’s first market complex with an escalator.