Tuesday October 26, 2004

Annual showcase of Malay delicacies


The month of Ramadan in the Muslim calendar marks a period when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. However, for a month when Muslims are practising self-control, the plethora of food sold at Ramadan bazaars can prove so tempting that it causes people with empty stomachs to sometimes buy more than they can eat.
But the truth is, the traders are performing a service for Muslims because the food they sell saves working city folk from having to rush home to whip up a buka puasa meal for themselves or their families.
Although she operates a restaurant, Rafeah has no choice but to open a Nasi Campur (mixed rice) stall at the Ramadan bazaar because her restaurant's location amid office blocks makes for slow business during the fasting month.
The mouth-watering smells that waft from these bazaars and the wide array of Malay food seldom found at other times of the year, also attract non-Muslims and even tourists.
People start thronging these food bazaars as early as 4pm and it doesn't matter whether it's sunny or raining cats and dogs.
Australian couple Norm and Cathy Ferguson described the Ramadan bazaar as a fantastic experience.
They were seen stopping from stall to stall to look and sometimes buy delicacies on sale at the Ramadan bazaar in Jalan Masjid India last Wednesday.
"The bazaar reflects a colourful and unique culture. We are amused by the kaleidoscope of delicacies that are so affordably priced," said Norm.
"We can rub shoulders with the Malaysians, taste the different food, immerse ourselves in the warm atmosphere and my husband especially enjoys haggling over prices with the friendly traders," added Cathy.
Ann Lee, 30, who was buying some Malay cakes with her colleagues, said the festive atmosphere at Ramadan bazaars lured them to visit the one in Jalan Masjid India almost every other day.
"It's just fun to be part of the sights, sounds and smells of Ramadan bazaars. Not only do we get to enjoy the food, we also get to make friends with many of the Malay traders here," she said.
She was quick to add that the Malay delights originating from various parts of the country provided her with a much-needed change to her daily Chinese meals. Moreover, they are cheap.
Mohd Shukor, 29, and Mohd Rozaimi, 20, said they were happy that some Indian stalls were incorporated into Ramadan bazaars this year.
"We love buying snacks like the Indian Kacang Putih and Murukku (peanuts and crunchies) to be eaten later in the night," Shukor said.
Most of the traders at the bazaar in Jalan Masjid India were happy to be able to trade there. They said Ramadan was the only time for them to enjoy brisk business. It also gives them the chance to make new friends and renew friendships with traders whom they see only once a year.
"Competition? It is normal but it does not matter much to us," said Mohd Zamri Bakar, 27, who was dishing out Penang's Laksa Buyung to his queuing customers.
"Everybody makes money, there's no need to fight among ourselves. We enjoy doing business at the same place as we all become friends eventually," said Zamri, who said he could easily sell 400 packs of Laksa Buyung daily.
He said the laksa was prepared with a secret recipe passed down from his parents.
Rafeah Bani, 52, who operates a restaurant in Taman Maluri, said she had no choice but to open a Nasi Campur (mixed rice) stall at the Ramadan bazaar because her restaurant, located amid office blocks, usually suffered slow business during the fasting month.
She has been dishing out lip-smacking dishes at the bazaar for the past four years.
"We start cooking before 8am every day, set up the stall at about 3pm and go home after 10pm. We also have to put up with the harsh weather.
"It is tiring but we don't mind. We meet some nice friends here. My siblings and children are helping me out and this strengthens the bonds between my family members," she said.
For Ann Lee (left) food from the Ramadan bazaar offers a much-needed change to her daily Chinese meals.
Some of these Ramadan bazaars offer more than food. There are loads of clothes, trinkets, accessories, household decorative items and many more to choose from. Many such stalls in Jalan Masjid India are open 24 hours.
"We observe two shifts during this month so that there is always someone to look after the stall," said a partner of a stall selling artificial flowers here, who wanted to be known only as Kak Siti.
"We don't feel scared even in the wee hours of the morning because so many other stalls are open. The crowd gets larger later in the day," she said excitedly.
No Ramadan bazaar can operate smoothly if not for the careful co-ordination carried out by the respective local authority and related agencies.
In the case of Jalan Masjid India and its surrounding areas, City Hall officers are all over to monitor the traffic situation while Alam Flora workers go about sweeping up rubbish.
Bins are placed at strategic spots to discourage littering.
"Being on duty here during the fasting month is not a problem," said City Hall enforcement officer Abu Bakar Taufiek, 47, when asked how he felt about being stationed there from 2pm to 10.30pm and unable to break fast with his family.
"The council is considerate enough to provide us with things we need, such as raincoats to shield us from the rain and food to break fast with," he said.

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"