Jalan-Jalan at Jalan Pasar

02 March 2016

Before malls took over Kuala Lumpur’s shopping landscape, locals flocked to Jalan Pasar to find anything and everything they needed. Times and trends have changed the neighbourhood so we took a stroll down and around Jalan Pasar to speak to those who still remember its history.

“Jalan Pasar is no longer what it used to be” is a refrain often heard while speaking with the “old-timers” that are left in the area. In its heyday, it was filled with shops selling every item there was to buy - textiles, sundry goods, medical items, pets, food. It was mainly known for its dry and wet goods market. In the past 10 to 20 years however, its makeup (with the exception of the wet market) has changed entirely into a street selling every variety of electrical equipment or component. Online searches confirm that if you can’t find what you’re looking for here, it likely doesn’t even exist.

A man only wanting to be known as Loh, tells us that he has lived in the area since he was a child, and he is now 70-years-old. “I would say it’s [the market] almost a 100-years-old, actually.” The market itself is dense, with tables squeezed next to each other. The produce is fresh. Really fresh. A child watches as a frog is skinned in front of her eyes, birds are being de-feathered and slaughtered very methodically, while there are groundnuts fresh from the ground, still attached to its green fringe. It is an assault to the senses, in a way fluorescent lit supermarkets are not. Calm and order isn’t really a thing here. Mahmud Hakim at 53, is is a petty trader who sells zamrud rings and Malay medicinal oils on the main street, along the footpath outside the row of densely occupied electronic stores. He says tells us that business is slower these days. “Too much variety, too many people selling the same things.” He differentiates himself with his wares, offering virility to men and comfort to those with bloating and back aches.

The ever exurberant Uncle Lai Tat.

Off Jalan Pasar, on Jalan Seladang is the exuberant and friendly owner of Teck Kee’s Curry Puffs - Uncle Lai Tat. At 63, he is sprightly and even cheeky. “I got married very late la!” he says, when asked about retirement. “I’ve been doing this since 1968, you know!” Quite possibly one of the few old-timers left who remember Jalan Pasar as it was, Lai Tat explains his foray into the business. “My brother taught me how to make some, and I’ve been selling it since then. People seem to like it.” His curry puffs are pillowy and delicious, and he maintains that the choices of meats for the puffs were conscious. “I don’t make beef or pork, because I want everyone to be able to eat my curry puffs,” he says with an infectious smile. Soon enough, with promising demand coming from his customers, Lai Tat ended up diversifying and selling plain and filled donuts (the former at RM0.80 and RM1.20).

Despite having moved to Cheras with his Vietnamese wife who helps him with the business, Lai Tat remembers Jalan Pasar well. “There were two cinemas on this street, Metropole featuring Chinese movies and the E-mart [electronics mall on Jalan Pasar], was formerly Star Theatre screening English movies. The area was very different back then. Very busy, and the old house I lived in was a small, wooden one. A real village. But that area has been destroyed since. You still have some of the older shops surviving, but most of the street had old kopitiams, now only a few are left like Pustaka Sri Dunia which is near the fire station, and the Chinese temple which I know is almost a 100-years-old … but besides that, this area has changed a lot.”

Choong Foo Chuan, second generation owner of Chen Chen Roast Goose.

Adding to that is Chong Foo Chuan, 55, who is the second generation owner of the famous Chen Chen Roast Goose. He remembers a time when all of Jalan Pasar was a small village and its current surrounding alleys and streets were a small, vibrant neighbourhood where everyone knew your name. “All of them have moved away since. There was this old fish ball shop I used to go to with my dad. Problem is, a lot of people moved away to the housing estates now … in Cheras and all. So they took their businesses there as well,” he explains.

The electronic shops, Chong says, are a fairly recent occurrence, only arriving in the past 10 to 20 years. “My father started this business 25 years ago. He went to Hong Kong, and stayed there learning the proper way of roasting [goose] and taught it to me.” Chong’s dad, Chong Kok Hoong has since retired, at 75, leaving Chong to run the business with his wife and his 20-year-old son. “I wake up at 4am and go to the Jalan Pasar market, buy the produce and marinade the goose and duck in our secret sauces. Then after a few hours, I roast them on the top of my roof,” he explains, pointing to his house, just down the road from his corner shop. The goose is perfectly roasted, as is the barbecued pork (char siew) and roast pork (siew yoke). Served with crisp vegetables and a hearty soup, it’s a delectable lunch for customers who comes from all over KL and Malaysia for his food. He sells about 100 to 150 portions of barbecued meats a day, and takes pride in the fact that he still does all his own roasting, refusing to outsource it to his workers. “See la how, if my son wants to take over, I’m slowly showing him the ropes,” he says laughingly.

A “newcomer” into the area is Winson Hew, a 38-year-old who manages O.GI Sdn. Bhd., a store selling large speakers and amplifiers. Having managed the store for over ten years on Jalan Pasar, he says that his customers come from all walks of life. “My biggest customers are some of those feng tau clubs la!” he says laughingly. He retains a business advantage over many of the shops, as he has large speakers and lighting for larger venues, while the rest work towards electronic equipment and components. “Business has slowed down a bit after the GST was introduced, so we just have to keep doing our best la.”

Chandrasegaran has been a barber for 12 years.

Down the road from Chen Chen is Chandrasegaran, 63 - the sole barber at Windsiir H.S Barber – who says that Jalan Pasar used to be what malls are to Malaysians today. “You came to Jalan Pasar and the Pudu area to buy everything you need. Everything was in this area, but not like a shopping mall. Maybe that’s why the shops closed down eventually … the malls opened up. But places like the Jalan Sayur food court, that is still around, with a mix of food from all the races.” Cutting hair at his shop on Jalan Seladang for over 12 years, Chandrasegaran inherited the salon business from his father who began over 60 years ago in Pudu. With 20 customers a day, his business comes from walk-ins and regulars from all over KL at a reasonably priced RM13 for a basic cut. His tips for hairstyling are simple: just keep it neat and tidy. He adds that “the Beckham,” is one of the typical styles he does.

Despite the changing makeup of Jalan Pasar, it has retained its charm in many ways with these illustrious characters, dotting the streets, selling their wares and relaxed enough to talk to those seeking to learn about Jalan Pasar’s interesting history. Most of the business owners are older, and their memories are fading as the years go by. “Time really flies,” says Chong. And indeed it does, making Jalan Pasar worth a visit for its evolving heritage and vibrancy, but more so because of its people, trading and making a living for themselves.

Visit these people and places at your next Jalan Pasar walkabout:

Chen Chen BBQ Goose Duck
Address: Jalan Seladang, Off Lorong Yap Hin, 55100, KL
Tel: 012-23333083
Operating Hours: 9am – 6pm, daily

Pustaka Sri Dunia (KL) SDN BHD 
Address: 5, Jalan Pasar, Pudu, 55100 KL
Tel: 03-92219404
Operating Hours: 9.30am – 6pm, closed on Sundays

Address: 45, Jalan Pasar, Pudu, 55100 KL
Tel: 012-3983863 or 03-92219037
Operating Hours: 9am – 6pm, daily (except Chinese New Year)

Teck Kee Curry Puffs 
Address: Small cart on Jalan Seladang, off Jalan Pasar, 55100 KL
Tel: 016-2591337 (for orders only)
Operating Hours: 8am – 5pm, daily

Windsiir H.S Barber
Address: Jalan Seladang (down the road from Chen Chen Roast Goose)
Operating Hours: 9am - 8.30pm, daily (half day only on Friday)  

By Michelle Gunaselan


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