Ramadhan is the fasting month for the Muslims; a time of spiritual reflection and increased devotion. It is almost like Lent for the Catholics but more severely practiced and observed. For about a month (29 to 30 days), the Muslims are supposed to fast from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. If you are visiting Malaysia, a pre dominantly Muslim country, during Ramadhan you will encounter that it lacks the chaotic vibrancy of Southeast Asian cities during the day time. But that shouldn’t deter you from coming as you get the bonus of visiting the Ramadhan food bazaar that springs up all over Malaysian cities.
If you love food, then Ramadhan is a good time to visit Malaysia. Wherever you decide to go, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Penang, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu or even smaller towns, you will find these Ramadhan food bazaars mushrooming in parking lots, along curbs, and basically anywhere there is open space. These bazaars are temporary stalls set up especially for this occasion; and food vendors sell their delicacies under canopies and huge umbrellas.
The time to buka puasa (breaking of fast) is around 7pm (in West Malaysia and 6.30am in East Malaysia) vendors will usually be setting up their stalls as early as 3pm. Those selling BBQ or grill food will get their fire started by then. And by 4pm, you could smell the aromas of uncountable and indescribable local delicacies; and these aromas beckon Muslims and non-Muslims alike to this once-a-year food carnival.
By around 5pm and 6pm, the crowd will get to such proportion that everyone will be jostling one another for space in front of their favourite stalls. For Muslim customers, they would go from stall to stall to buy their food, and drinks, then with plastic bags upon plastic bags of food, adjourn to their homes or nearby restaurants, awaiting the call to prayer before they could break their fast and plunge into their long-awaited and well-deserved meal. I could only imagine the torture they go through being in the bazaar, the tempting aromas and the taunting sights of all the mouth-watering delicacies. It is common courtesy that non-Muslims don’t consume their food there at the bazaar. Non-Muslims could really learn a thing or two about self-control from Muslims during Ramadhan.
Delicious food, snacks, cakes, cookies that are not commonly found in one place can all be found in these food bazaars. Besides the typical Malay food, such as nasi lemak, rendang (spicy beef), mee goreng (fried noodle), mee kari (curry noodle), laksa (spicy noodle soup), you can also find other popular dishes such as roti canai (Indian flat bread), satay (skewered meat) and ketupat (sticky rice wrapped in leaf), BBQ chicken, chicken rice, etc.
There is also a variety of savoury and sweet snacks, such as curry puffs, spring rolls, banana fritters, apambalik (Malaysian pancake filled with peanut, sugar, butter and sweet corn), etc. And the colourful cakes and drinks seem like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. One of the most popular drinks is the sugar cane juice because it can quench thirst and fight the heat better than any drinks. They are freshly squeezed with machine, then keep cool in ice bucket.
For 2 to 3 hours, the atmosphere equals to that of a carnival. Then it slowly winds down as the hour to breaking fast approaches. Patrons will be heading home with their delicious meals and vendors will pack up to get ready for their own breaking of fast. Most bazaars will usually be empty just before iftar (the meal where the Muslims break their fast); only to start all over again the next day.
Going to a Ramadhan food bazaar is a uniquely Malaysian experience: the street food culture of Malaysia condensed into a couple of hours. And at the same time, it is the celebration of a faith where others are invited to partake. Races, religious beliefs and social statuses are forgotten, as everyone is there for the food, the glorious food – so typically Malaysians.
If these foods make your mouth waters and if you want to know and experience the culture. Then join me and 2 friends on a food and culture tour in Malaysia and Singapore 13-25 October, 2013. More info here