Chowrasta Market at Penang Road, within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of Malaysia's oldest markets and one of only two markets in the city centre, the other being Campbell Street Market. It is also notable for the wide variety of Penang's fresh produce sold within, from pickled nutmegs to tau sar pneah (Penang's famous bean paste pastry).
The area where the market now stands was originally part of a massive Indian area in George Town. In particular, ethnic Tamils from southern India began settling around the area in the mid-19th. century. It was within the vicinity of the present market where the Tamils sold fresh produce and livestock.
In 1890, the George Town Municipal Council built the single-storey Chowrasta Market. It was eventually replaced with the present Chowrasta Market in the 1960s. The market building was later renovated between 2013 and 2017, as part of efforts to rejuvenate and expand the aging market. The renovation works were completed as of January 2017.
At the market's Penang Road entrance, one can find various Penang produce such as nutmegs, durian cakes and balms. A wet market occupies the ground floor, while upstairs, one would be transported back in time amongst the rows of shoe shops, clothes shops and bookstores filled to the brim with second-hand publications. Market activities also spill out onto the surrounding streets - Jalan Kuala Kangsar, Chowrasta Road and Tamil Street - where vendors sell anything from electronic accessories to clothes at dirt cheap prices.
This word was also derived from the Hindi term chowk, which means market street. To this day, most cities in India have chowks, where the markets are located.
Other than that, Chowrasta Market was known by the Chinese as Keh1 Leng2 Na4 Barn3 san1 in Hokkien and Kit-Leng Pa Sat in Cantonese. Both terms meant 'the southern Indian market'.
The land on which Chowrasta Market now stands was part of a large Indian-dominated portion of George Town. Since the mid-19th. century, ethnic Tamils from Tamil Nadu, India had been populating this particular area.
Consequently, this was the area where the Tamils would sell fresh produce, fish and poultry. As such, with a long history dating back to the Indian street vendors of the mid 19th. century, Chowrasta Market is one of the oldest in Malaysia, older than most cities and towns in Malaysia.
In 1890, the George Town Municipal Council built the single-storey Chowrasta Market at the cost of $16,471 (Straits dollar). At the time, freed Indian convicts often found employment inside Chowrasta Market.
In 1961, the single-storey structure was replaced with the present double-storey Chowrasta Market at the cost of $1,310,000 (Malaya and British Borneo dollar). The new market was also one of the first buildings on Penang Island to be equipped with escalators. In addition, it had four service lifts. The escalators and lifts have since been dismantled.Today, both Chowrasta Market and Campbell Street Market are the only operational wet markets in the heart of George Town.Interestingly, Chowrasta Market has witnessed a somewhat dramatic demographic change over the past century. As newer Chinese immigrants flooded into George Town towards the 20th. century, the Indian-dominated parts of the town have been reduced to the current Little India enclave. Today, most vendors around Chowrasta Market, where predominantly Tamil traders once plied their trades, are Chinese. Over the years, market activities have spilled onto the surrounding streets - Chowrasta Road, Jalan Kuala Kangsar and Tamil Street - due to the lack of internal space.
Since 2013, the Democratic Action Party-led Penang state government has commissioned the renovation of Chowrasta Market. The renovation works included the addition of multi-storey parking lots at Jalan Kuala Kangsar and the expansion of the market's interior, as well as the refurbishment of the market's frontal façade. The renovation works were completed in January 2017.
Along the front entrance of Chowrasta Market that faces Penang Road, one can find a wide variety of Penang's fresh produce, such as pickled nutmegs, durian cakes, dodol (a sweet Malay confection), heh ko (a special Penangite prawn paste), belachan (Malay chilli paste), balms and tau sar pneah (Penang's famous bean paste biscuits). No visit to Penang Island is complete without getting some of these uniquely Penangite produce and delicacies.
The wet market occupies the ground floor of the market, and spills outside onto Jalan Kuala Kangsar and Chowrasta Road. Here, housewives would congregate every morning to buy their groceries. In addition, along Jalan Kuala Kangsar, one can get anything from electronic accessories to clothes and snacks at dirt cheap prices.
Tucked above the wet market are rows of shoe shops, clothes shops, coffee shops and book stores. Unchanged since the 1960s, the bookstores, in particular, are still stacked with second-hand books and magazines.
0830 hours - 2000 hours daily
Penang State Government
N.28 Komtar State Assemblyman : Teh Lai Heng (Democratic Action Party)
Malaysian Federal Parliament
P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)