SEBERANG PERAI, June 15 — At one end, there is culture and tradition and at the other, it is trendy and hip while in between, you find a hawkers’ haven. Welcome to Jalan Raja Uda.
The road, which stretches about three kilometres between the Butterworth Outer Ring Road and Jalan Permatang Pauh, is always busy with cars and people going to and from the morning Apollo Market, the stretch of hawker stalls, the temples as well as the many new cafes.
Even as Think City embarks on an urban regeneration programme to breathe new life into Butterworth, Jalan Raja Uda seems to have already started with new developments and the opening of trendy cafes, restaurants and night spots all along the stretch.
The area was home to early settlers dating back to the 1840s. There were vegetable and livestock farms here then and the Leng Eng Seah Temple is believed to have been established in 1845.
Temples, temples everywhere
The Leng Eng Seah Temple is devoted to the main deity Si Wang Fu Da Ren and though the temple may be the oldest on this road, there are other more prominent-looking temples here.
One of the more well-known ones has to be the elaborate Tow Boo Kong Temple dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods, located just next door.
It started out as a small shrine but over the years, it expanded to become a grand temple visited by many from far and wide especially during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival held on the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar.
The festival is a grand annual celebration that stretches over nine days and one of the highlights is a fire-walking ceremony at this temple where devotees walk over hot coals in their bare feet and come out totally unscathed!
During the nine-day festival, devotees will be on a strict vegan diet so there will also be vegetarian stalls sprouting up all around the temple during that time.
Off the main road, there are several other temples dedicated to different deities. There is the Guan Im Deng Temple or Goddess of Mercy Temple along Jalan Kampung Paya and there is another similar temple called the Guan Yin Ting Dou Mu Gong Temple which is dedicated to both the Goddess of Mercy and the Dou Mu Gong deity.
Street food, anybody?
In the mornings, Apollo Market is the focal point of activities for locals from all over Butterworth. After the market closes at noon, hawkers take over and these stalls stretch from the market and go on for about 500 metres down the road.
We are talking about a whole long stretch of hawker stalls on the roadside; some open from lunch and some from 5pm onwards till late at night.
There are stalls selling everything from koay teow thng, chicken rice, nyonya kuih, jawa mee, rojak, curry mee, deep fried crullers, char koay kak, porridge and popiah.
This portion of the road remains mostly residential but shophouses and commercial buildings have popped up over the years.
Development along Jalan Raja Uda started sometime in the 1950s so some of the housing estates here have been around for more than five decades. Even the Apollo Market has been around for over 50 years.
Other than the hawkers in Apollo Market, there are countless coffee shops along the road including Restoran Ju Heng that opens till after midnight. This place is famous for its tom yam meehoon. A must-try.
Several food courts can be found here too. These food courts offer a wide variety of popular Penang hawker fare with some offering more unique items like fresh frog porridge and hand made noodles.
Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese-style food can also be found at these food courts.
Something for the hipsters
Down the road where there used to be vegetable farms, rows of commercial lots were built over the last decade.
The farms have given way to rows of modern commercial lots with the Aroma Hotel as the focal point; entertainment spots, restaurants and cafes have opened around it.
There are also popular drinking spots like The Library and The Beer Factory.
Outside the enclave, facing the main road, are rows of new commercial lots with trendy cafes and modern eateries; take your pick from burgers to Korean food to hipster coffee places serving artisanal coffee and French desserts.
If you are in the mood for a burger, Spade’s Burgers has a branch along this road and some of the many cafes, such as The Artichoke Cafe, offer pretty decent Western and fusion meals at reasonable prices.
Further down the road, turn into Jalan Ong Yi How to find more cafes and restaurants in between fashion stores and offices.
The local start-up Who’s Bryan, well known for their unique Asian-Western fusion cuisine, is located here and if you have an itch to throw some darts, there’s even a darts cafe here.
A feast for the eyes
In recent years, this commercial district has also become quite the spot for public art namely three large wall murals and the iconic four-storey 12-sided star installation by Malaysian artist Ong Jun Hao.
The Star is an abstract light installation made of steel that appears lodged in between the floors of an incomplete building and it was installed there during Urban Xchange 2015.
A wall mural was also painted during that art festival by Spanish artist Sabek of a woman with a serpent-like creature encircling her but this mural was later replaced, also by Sabek, with a more light-hearted mural of a girl holding a blue apple.
On the wall of one of the shoplots, at a road junction, is an elaborate motif by Iranian artist, Nafir. The intricate motif has a three-dimensional effect if viewed from a certain angle — the shape of a butterfly can be seen, as if floating on the design.
The third wall mural is a large scale surreal piece of a man sitting cross legged as he reaches out while turtles swim around him while children and a family gaze up in awe at the majestic turtles.
This mural by Martin Ron is on the wall of a shop facing a carpark in the Taman Perusahaan Raja Uda.
So the next time you are in Butterworth, be sure to stop by Jalan Raja Uda regardless of the time of the day because this is one place that has it all from early morning till late at night; everything from food to culture to entertainment spots.
* Think City is currently undertaking urban regeneration programmes for Butterworth, George Town, Kuala Lumpur and Johor. Find out more about Think City and its projects at thinkcity.com.my.