The Satok Weekend Market in Kuching, Malaysia is the biggest outdoor wet market I’ve ever been to. I feel like that’s an impressive thing to say, because fresh fruit markets are like all I do. I might skip the museum, or forgo the sunset boat tour. But I go to every fruit market. Every time. Sunday morning I headed across the river to Kuching’s biggest weekend market.
About Satok Weekend Market
The first thing to know about the Satok Weekend Market is that it isn’t the Satok Weekend Market anymore.
People still call it that, but the market is no longer located on Satok Street (Jalan Satok). In 2013 the government moved everyone across the river about 5km from Kuching town to a sprawling complex called Medan Niaga Satok, in an area locals refer to as Kubah Ria.
It’s a bit sad for people who remember the old market (I do), a casual shamble of tarps thrown up to shade shoppers as they perused the carts and impromptu tables blocking the street. It grew organically over 25 or 30 years into a big, maze-like, and entirely temporary event. It had all the magic of a flash mob — arriving in a flurry of activity Saturday afternoon, and disappearing completely by Sunday evening.
The new Satok Weekend Market is like a fairground. It has enormous, open-air structures with soaring roofs supported by steel beams and bolts. Below them, people tumble over each other through the crowds, heavy plastic bags swaying as they grocery shop. The market has everything, roughly arranged into fresh meat, seafood and eggs and dried powders and vegetables you’ll recognize and vegetables you won’t.
The scale of the market is either intimidating or exhilarating, depending on your appetite for markets and crowds. To make things a bit easier, I’ve drawn a map.
A Map of Satok Weekend Market
Here is the market viewed from above, rendered in my childish drawing. As you can see, the market covers 5 entire buildings and then sprawls onto the sidewalks.
The road looping around the market is entirely filled with a slow queue of cars. As a pedestrian, I felt bad for the drivers slowly trying to make their escape from the jams. If you drive to the market, try to park outside and then walk.
And importantly, since you’re going to be here awhile, the toilets are located in the round building and costs 0.20 RM to enter.
What to do at Satok Weekend Market
Satok Weekend Market is a food market.
There’s a small area near the bathrooms where you can buy clothing, but otherwise, the entire market is dedicated to food. No helicopter toys or balloons, no racks of tudungs, the Malay headscarves, nobody thrusting ugly watches or overly priced belts at you as you try to pick your way through the crowd.
More specifically, Satok Weekend Market is a fresh ingredients market.
The market has an area set out with snacks like apam balik, a crispy crepe folded in half over crushed peanuts and sugar (contains eggs, not vegan) and tables of my favorite snack, nyonya kueh (vegan), as well as tanks and tanks of sweetened juices and sugar cane for thirsty shoppers.
This area has mostly quick bites to keep shoppers going rather than to sit down and have a meal. There’s also a food court, but I didn’t stop there, except to ask for the bathroom.
The majority of the market is dedicated to fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and spices, and other things that you need to cook.
This was the perfect market for doing my two favorite things: people watching, and looking for weird fruits and vegetables.
If you’ve found this blog, then you’re probably like me and the unique rare fruits and vegetables really make traveling like an adventure. Who knows what interesting life forms you’ll find?
Here’s are a few of my favorites that I found at the Satok Weekend Market.
Bananas are supposed to be boring, but in Borneo they’re not. There are so many different kinds of bananas, but the one I saw most at Satok Weekend Market was the tanduk, or bull’s horn banana.
These bananas are huge. It’s hard to see in the picture, but each banana about 1.5 feet long. Like a plantain they’re often used for cooking, but if you wait until the skin turns black you can eat them raw. Opening your mouth big enough to take a bite is worthy of many dirty jokes.
I didn’t buy any, by the way. I just think they’re cool.
I bought a whole kilogram of these, because they are that delicious. Dabai (Canarium odontophyllum) is sometimes called the tropical olive because they are a fatty fruit with a similar fat content to avocado. They taste naturally salty, with a satisfying savoriness of the elusive umami.
But they’re not an instant gratification food. You can’t just start gobbling them down in the market, which is probably good because you’d never make it home with a full bag.
When you buy them, they’re as hard as little marbles. You need to blanch them, as instructed in my Instagram video.
Dabai is one of the more expensive fruits because it’s such a delicious delicacy. It’s sold by weight, and the price can be anywhere from 6RM per kilo to nearly 30RM per kilo depending on the quality.
Typically, look for Dabai with firm, shiny black skin (no wrinkles) and a large yellow spot on the top, where it’s broken off the stem. The larger the yellow spot, the more flesh and less seed you’ll get. I bought the mid-range ones at 16RM/kilo, took them home to my Airbnb, and split the whole bag with my friend that night. Yum.
Engkala is one of the truly unique fruits. There’s really nothing like it that I can compare it to. When it’s ripe, it has beautiful pink skin. As it softens, you can pop off it’s little acorn cap to reveal pure white flesh with a texture somewhere between an avocado and an elastic band. It’s rubbery and creamy at the same time. It’s just weird.
It’s also one of those rare fruits that are fairly abundant in Sarawak, and seen nowhere else. So make sure to taste these when you get the chance.
I arrived to Satok Weekend Market thirsty, and by the time I left in the heat of a Sunday afternoon I’d had three different kinds of coconuts.
Coconuts were really abundant, more so than at other markets I visited around Kuching. I don’t know if this was a season fluke, but I was grateful because I love coconuts.
The three kinds of coconuts were biasa, pandan, and rendah kuning. My favorite is the biasa, the normal one, which is usually very watery, slightly salty, and feels hydrating. The pandan is smaller, rounder, and has a sweeter, more aromatic flavor that people liken to the herb, pandan. Rendah kuning, or the yellow dwarf, is a coconut with a yellow exterior that tastes pretty similar to the biasa but generally (in my coconut connoisseur experience) a smaller nut.
Coconut connoisseurship may be even more unusual than durian connoisseurship. Satok Market is one of the few places you can attune your tastebuds with a coconut sampling flight.
Asam Paya or Kelubi
This fruit, Eleiodoxa conferta, looks like snakefruit. It’s not. It’s not even the same family.
Also, you will never, ever, eat them fresh for calories or pleasure.
I tried. I like sour things. I like the way it makes your face seize up and contort and for one brief second you feel extremely alive. I took one bite and that was enough life for the day.
Asam paya is used as a condiment, sliced thinly or pounded with chilies, onion, ginger, sugar, lime and shrimp paste to give flavoring to raw fish salads, something else I will never eat. So I may never taste this again, but I’m glad I did.
I came to Satok Weekend Market looking to experience something new.
I’d come to Satok Weekend Market in an adventurous mood. I was hoping that, given it’s size, I’d be able to find something new for me to try. That’s a steep order. Like I said, I’ve been to a lot of markets in Asia. Just check the market page of this blog.
Even after my asam paya debacle I was still in an adventurous mood. So I investigated these plates of hair-like seaweed. The vendor told me that you wash the seaweed in hot water, then serve it as ulam, salad, with a dressing of vinegar and chilies and diced tomato and cucumber.
I took some home to my Airbnb to to eat on a salad with my dabai.
You didn’t think I’d let a whole post go by without talking about durian, did you? Why do you think I was really at the Satok Weekend market? It wasn’t for Asam Paya and seaweed, I’ll tell you that.
I found three stalls selling the regular durian, Durio zibethinus, but no other species. I don’t know if it was because we were approaching the end of the season, but I was a little disappointed in the durian situation.
This van of durian unloaded while I was completing my lap of the market. When I walked by the second time, it had attracted quite a crowd.
I watched for a few minutes, before walking out of the market to a place where my Uber wouldn’t have to wade through the insane traffic.
I know where to get better durian in Kuching.
The Satok Weekend Market is a great place to spend about an hour or an hour and a half people watching, looking for fresh ingredients, and drinking all the kinds of coconuts.
It’s especially great if you are staying in an Airbnb with a kitchen, like I did, because it meant I could take home some of these weird ingredients to try cooking myself.
It’s not a great place to buy durian, or at least it wasn’t when I was there. That same week, I found Durio graveolens and both better quality and more abundant durians at other markets, which I will post about soon in the Ultimate Guide to Kuching Markets.
To get a more indepth look at the Satok Weekend Market, make sure to watch the video.
How to Get to Satok Weekend Market
The market is now located far enough away from Kuching city center that it’s not really walkable. The tourism website suggests taking a van from the Outdoor Market in town, but a very easy and cheap way to go is to take Uber.
From my apartment near the Petanak Market, it cost me 7.36 RM ($1.66USD) and 15 minutes to go to Satok Weekend Market.
WARNING: if you type “Satok Weekend Market” into Google Maps, it will give you directions to the old Market.
Instead, type “Pasar Satok” on Taman Foong Joon or just use the map below.
About This Map Use this map to navigate to different places in Malaysia where you can find durian.