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Exploring Central Market

Central Market (Pasar Seni) is one of KL's most endearing landmarks. As the city grew, the market remained, a reminder of how KL emerged from the 'muddy confluence' to becoming one of the most interesting cities in Asia.

by / Published: 24 Aug 2018

Exploring Central Market
Photo: Central Market/Instagram

In the beginning… 
Central Market opened its doors in 1888 as a wet market and was built by the famous Yap Ah Loy, the city’s third Kapitan Cina (leader of the Chinese community) and one of the people behind the development of KL into trading and mining town. The wet market was only relocated in the 80s, after which the building underwent renovations, but the façade remained in all its Art Deco glory. 

Central Market today 
Strategically located in the heart of the city within a heritage area, Central Market is a bustling centre for shops selling everything from batik and pewter (typical Malaysian artisanal products) to antiques (some dubious, others authentic) and all manner of local crafts. It’s where tourists go to pick up gifts and where Malaysiana rules proudly. Shops are divided into themed lanes or lorongs, symbolising the different cultures and heritage of the country. 

Just outside the main building is Kasturi Walk, a covered pedestrianised walkway where there are more stalls, food and drink vendors, and lots of tourist tat to bargain for. Do haggle as it’s the norm here. An interesting part of Central Market is the Annexe Gallery located on the second floor. This is an arts space where local artists and performers stage art exhibitions, gigs, film screenings and theatre productions. 

Photo: Merchant's Lane Cafe/Facebook

Eat, drink, be merry 
The area around Central Market is packed with local coffeeshops (kopitiam), hipster cafés and local restaurants offering Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine. Head to Old China Café, located within a restored shophouse a short walk away in Chinatown, and try the Nyonya laksa, fish head curry and beef rendang. Or stay in Central Market and head to Precious Old China, which also specialises in Peranakan dishes like jiu hu char and Sago Gula Melaka. 

A 10-minute walk away is Merchant’s Lane, a lovely café in a heritage building that used to be a brothel. The menu is a fusion of Malaysian flavours and the coffee and local tea is good. Step across the road and hit up Urban Artisan where soft-serve ice cream rules in gorgeous seasonal flavours like French Valrhona Chocolate x Oceanic Sea Salt or Premium Green Tea x Pure Lychee. 

Photo: Botak Liquor Bar/Facebook

Then it’s on to cocktails and there are some pleasant surprises around Central Market that will show you how great local ingredients go with ‘after-shopping-cooldown-drinks’. PS150 is a speakeasy in a faded Chinatown shophouse (yet another brothel in its past), in which chief mixologist Angel creates exotic drinks like the Pandan Flip (pandan-infused dark rum, coconut, bitters, egg yolk). BOTAK Liquor is another must-try. It’s extremely pretty and the botanical-inspired cocktails fuse flavours like sweet pea with elderflower, pumpkin with bunga kantan (torch ginger flower) and even starfruit with curry leaves! Oh, and there’s cocktails on tap… 

You’ve shopped, haggled, eaten and had a few too many cocktails – a day well spent, we say! 


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