Every market's got it's vibe. Bangsar's daily morning market is all business, but friendly. Temerloh's pekan sehari is laid back, as any market that takes place only on Sunday mornings should be. The Pudu market off of Jalan Pasar is high-energy, noisy and lively.
Petaling Jaya's SS2 pasar malam is ... cranky.
Don't get me wrong. From a purely foodie perspective this mostly Chinese market, with stalls lining both sides of the four streets surrounding a square block of shops, is awesome. The vegetables are spanking fresh,
the fruit beyond reproach. Sidling up to one of SS2's many seafood stalls one smells nothing but air and a hint of salt; fish, prawns, squid, crab all look as as if they've just been pulled from the water.
and exceedingly fragrant almond-topped steamed spice bread tempt sweet tooths.
There are medicinal herbs for whatever ails you
and seemingly every plant under the sun, from flowers (roses, lavendar) to vegetables (bitter melon), dried and ready to be made into tea.
But what's up with the vendors? I've rarely encountered such a bunch of - to use one of my dear mother's favorite phrases - sour pusses in my life! Never a smile, rarely a grunt. With the exception of the ladies we bought a pile of fish from, a sweet grandmotherly type selling super sweet corn on the cob from a single rattan basket, and an outgoing guy offering big bags of oyster mushrooms for just three ringgit, we didn't find much fellow feeling at SS2.
Spying a crowd around a vendor's table, we squeezed in to find customers snatching up bags of fresh noodles the minute they were unloaded. Being confirmed dough heads, we wanted in on the action.
The vendor, doing her best imitation of the stereotypical Ugly American struggling to communicate in a land where he doesn't speak the language, bellowed at me, straining to enunciate each word:
'THESE ARE NOOOOO-DLES.'
Hmmm ... did she seriously believe that this orang putih (white person) didn't know what a noodle was?
'Yes, thank you,' I replied. 'I'll have a bag.'
'No, I'll give you something eeeaaaasy-er to make,' she barked, reaching back into her van.
Then she dumped the contents of another bag onto the table: thin, obviously not freshly made noodles frozen together in big clumps. They lay there, unloved and untouched by any of the other customers, some of whom were now behind the table, rummaging about in the van for more fresh noodles.
'Ugh, no thanks.' We moved on.
I'd love show you the sweet-smelling fresh bean curd being sold from a wooden barrel, but the vendor, shouting, chased Dave and his camera away. Now, I'm sympathetic to any vendor reluctant to share his trade secrets, but I'm still trying to figure out what might be revealed in a photo of bean curd in a wooden barrel, other than that it's .... in a wooden barrel.
In fact, our photos from SS2 are relatively few, given its size and interest. A mother-daughter team didn't seem to mind our documenting their specialty: rice flour dumplings filled with a choice of yam, turnip, or Chinese chives.
These obviously homemade treats are really something special. The wrapper is thin, just thick enough to contain the contents, and the lot is topped, if one wishes, with plenty of chopped scallions and big, crispy-chewy chunks of golden fried garlic. The flavorful and spicy chile sauce that accompanies is just that: fresh red chiles, ground with salt.
If I were to revisit SS2's pasar malam (doubtful), it would be for another box of these tasty mouthfuls.
SS2 pasar malam, Thursdays from about 5pm.