Chowrasta Market or Pasar Chowrasta (GPS: 5.41812, 100.33143) is one of the two community markets in inner George Town. The name is quite likely derived from Hindi चौक रास्ता (chauk raasta) meaning "square" (The word "Chowk" is still found in many cities in India where markets are held).
Chowrasta Market is probably the most popular spot to get local titbits such as preserved nutmeg, tau33 sah3 pneah1 and other similar items. These used to be de rigueur on the shopping list of anybody, particularly ladies from other states, or their local counterparts before making a visit to their friends of other states. The stalls are still operating today, as before.
Chowrasta Market has been undergoing restoration for several years since 2012. The restoration of the rear-side of the market was completed in 2015, with full restoration completed in January 2017.
The restoration has faithfully retained the location of the various shops at the market. The section facing Penang Road is occupied by outlets selling preserves such as nutmeg and plums, as sell as dodol, belacan and medicated oils. The wet market occupies the main portion of the ground floor bordered by Tamil Street, Chowrasta Road and Kuala Kangsar Road. Outlets selling clothes occupy the first floor around the atrium which has a pair of escalators. The middle portion of the first floor is occupied by the second hand bookshops. The rear portion of the first floor has one of the levels of the multi-storey car park.
The area around Chowrasta Market has been a settlement for Tamils from Kadayanallur in southern India (in present-day Tamil Nadu), since the mid 19th century. In fact, the entire stretch of George Town from Market Street through Chulia Street ending at present-day Penang Road and Transfer Road was an expansive Indian settlement that dwindled in size over time, to only Little India as well as various other pockets in the city.
In the 1870s and particularly 1880s, a massive influx of Chinese immigrants replaced the Indians in places such as Campbell Street, Kimberley Street and Cintra Street. Even the originally Indian Chulia Street saw a makeover as many Cantonese and Hakka moved in.
For that reason, it was known as "Kelinga Ban San" in Hokkien, meaning "South Indian Market." To this day, there are still shops along Lebuh Tamil that are run by the Tamil community of Chowrasta Market.
The first permanent market building was erected by the Commissioners of the Municipality of George Town - precursor of the Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang, MPPP - in the year 1890, at the cost of $16,471. The structure, which is single storey tall, remained unchanged until 1960. In some old photographs, you can see the front facade with the date 1920 on it. This refers to the extension on the Penang Road side which was put up in that year.
In 1961, the old market was demolished to make way for the new structure, built at a cost of $1,310,000, and is still standing to this day. When it was completed, it was one of the first buildings in Penang to be fitted with escalators, which brings wide-eyed users straight to the wet market level. There were also four service lifts. Both of these have since been dismantled.
Today, most of the market activities spill out onto Jalan Kuala Kangsar, Jalan Chowrasta, and Lebuh Tamil. A visit to the temple will show that the demographics of Penang has evolved since the 19th century, that now the majority of the sellers and patrons are not South Indians, but rather Chinese.
Chowrasta Market before the restoration
Chowrasta Market, George Town, Penang (30 August, 2012)
Chowrasta Market, Penang Road (1 September 2008) Chowrasta Market, Chowrasta Road (16 July 2008)
Penang local titbits at Chowrasta Market (16 July, 2008)
Updates on Chowrasta Market
24 March, 2015
Chowrasta Market, new side view, phase 1 (24 March, 2015)
Renovated back portion (24 March, 2015)
Renovated wet market (24 March, 2015)
7 August 2012: According to MPPP President, Dato' Patahiyah, upgrading works on Chowrasta Market will start in early 2013.
31 July 2012: Stakeholders and the general public were invited to view the proposed upgrading and facelift for Chowrasta Market. The urban market survey report by ThinkCity for the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) was posted on the wall on the first floor of the market.
23 June 2011: The Penang Island Municipal Countil called for a focus group discussion for the Urban Market Survey and Market Plan which they commission from Badan Warisan Malaysia. The presentation was held at MPPP in Komtar. During that presentation, I urged the authorities even as they work to upgrade Chowrasta Market, to put in an effort to preserve its history.
I expressed that Chowrasta Market is not like any other market in the country. Its history is longer than that of many Malaysian towns and cities. The market site has also witnessed an urban morphology of a city neighbourhood that was predominantly Indian during the 19th century to one that is almost homogenously Chinese in the 21st century.
Street market along Kuala Kangsar Road (16 July 2008)
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