Chowrasta Market, also known as Chowrasta Bazaar, is a famous Penang institution that has been around since the late 19th century.
Housed inside a recently renovated building, with a façade that reminds me of a 1960s council building, the market is a hive of activity with a few interesting points of difference from other markets in Penang.
Approaching Chowrasta Market from the north, along Jalan Penang, the first sign you’ve arrived at the market is the sight of an iron-rod sculpture adorning an otherwise empty white wall on the side of the building. The name of the sculpture is “Labourer to Trader”, and according to local expert Timothy Tye:
“The brick-carrying figure represent Indian convicts who were brought into the newly established Prince of Wales Island as labourers who were instrumental in the construction of several historical buildings in Penang including Fort Cornwallis and the St George’s Church. Those who won their freedom became itinerant hawkers, representing by the kuih-bearing figure.”
Entering from Jalan Penang, the front section is well known to locals, and an area dedicated to local delicacies, with a large range of pickled spices, biscuits, cakes, and other specialty items.
The one thing that caught my attention though was the rows of containers and trays holding a huge variety of colourful pickled or preserved fruits, including mango, papaya, and plums.
On my way to the most recently renovated part of the market, the “wet” section, I first passed through a stalls selling fruit and vegetables, eggs, jelly fish, and what seemed like quite a large variety of fish balls, ready for hearty noodle soup like a Koay Teow Th’ng.
The renovation of the “wet” section of Chowrasta Market was completed in 2015 and provides stall holders and customers with a well laid out and spacious area to trade.
This area of the market is bustling from early in the morning. The seafood section, which can also be accessed through the rear entrance (off Jalan Kuala Kangsar) was larger than I expected and contained a good selection of fish and other live seafood.
The meat section was also busy but not as busy as the poultry processing area, where live chickens and ducks were being chosen by customers in order to have them despatched and processed on the spot.
Chowrasta Market has second level upstairs and it is here you can find shoes, clothes, and as a bit of a surprise, a number of second hand book stores.
The shelves of these stores are filled to the brim with second hand books of all types in various languages, as well as piles of magazines and comic books. Well worth browsing.
After exploring the market, and a taking quick look at the stalls that line the streets around the market, it was time for a late breakfast. Located in a dedicated area just off Jalan Chowrasta, the food stalls offer typical hawker dishes in a well-shaded environment.
On this day I tried the wantan mee from the stall run by Albert Wong and his Thai wife, Wihprata Ng. The dish was delicious, and accompanied with a sweet milky coffee, enough to fuel the inward journey.
If you like exploring bustling markets, especially those with interesting points of difference, I recommend taking the time to visit Chowrasta Market.
P.S. If you found this post useful then sign up to my newsletter so you don’t miss out on future guides.