Spoilt for food choice at this year’s Ramadan bazaars
“Nasi lemak, nasi lemak, nasi lemak!”, “Ikan pari, ikan pari, ikan pari!” These are the few yells you can hear a few steps away from the blue tents of a Ramadan bazaar.
For just one month throughout the year, Ramadan bazaar is a gastronomic fiesta not just for our Muslims friends and family, but even for those who are not fasting during this month of Ramadan.
This year for the first time ever, the government provided interest-free loans for traders to do their business during the fasting month.
Earlier this year, Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Office (Bumiputera Entrepreneur Development) Datuk Naroden Majais announced that the federal government through the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism had allocated RM4 million to help the Ramadan traders in the state.
That explained the wide variety and huge number of stalls that can be found in various venues in and around Kuching.
This year also marks the first year Kuching North City Commission (DBKU) had Ramadan bazaars at both sides of the Sarawak River with the launch of Bina Mara Ramadan Bazaar at Jalan Haji Taha.
In Bina Mara Ramadan bazaar, there are 57 lots for visitors to stroll through and buy their food from. The other DBKU Ramadan bazaars are at Semarak and Sukma Ria.
Under the area of Padawan Municipal Council (MPP), there are four Ramadan bazaars waiting to be visited by those living or working nearby.
The four Ramadan bazaars are Kota Sentosa, Matang Jaya, Lorong C1 Lee Ling Commercial Centre and Taman Malihah.
Back in the day, we never would have thought that the words ‘Ramadan bazaar’ and ‘shopping malls’ would be in the same sentence.
Sarawak Plaza, The Hills, and Summer Shopping Malls are among the shopping outlets in Kuching that have opened up their space for vendors to sell during this Ramadan.
Heading to Kota Samarahan, the official number of Ramadan bazaars has grown to five from when they first started six years ago and includes those at Desa Ilmu, Taman Samarindah, Ferry Point, Bandar Baru Kota Samarahan and Uni Garden.
One of the biggest Ramadan bazaars in Kuching is none other than Stutong Ramadan bazaar located near the Stutong market at Jalan Setia Raja.
This year Stutong Ramadan bazaar has a total 151 stalls compared to 129 stalls last year.
The Ramadan bazaar in Stutong is split into two different parts with a long line of tents set up.
One of it houses all the barbequed food items such as satay, fish including sting ray, and all parts of the chicken you can imagine.
That part of the Ramadan bazaar in Stutong could almost be mistaken for a smokehouse – definitely not for vegetarians.
It was good planning on behalf of Kuching City South Council (MBKS) who organised the bazaar to separate the vendors selling barbecued food from the rest at the other tent.
With the number of Ramadan bazaar stalls increasing over the years, and improved facilities, how about food choice?
A lot of different types of food which 10 years ago would not be considered standard ‘Ramadan’ food like cupcakes have found their way to the Ramadan bazaar.
Food vendors during the Ramadan bazaar also showed their culinary creativity through the reinvention of the classics.
The good old apam balik which usually has peanut and butter has been given a makeover with the chocolate apam balik and corn apam balik in one of the stalls at Desa Ilmu Ramadan bazaar.
What about begedil? It might sound like an alien’s pet name to the uninitiated but it is mainly made up of potatoes cubed then fried, crushed and formed into patties before being fried again.
It is almost like the western hash brown, but smaller in size, tastier in flavour and more sinful in calories.
At the Stutong Ramadan bazaar you can find yourself a stall dedicated to begedil; apart from the original peanut begedil which was safely named ‘begedil ori’, they also have beef begedil, chicken begedil and anchovy begedil.
This year the month of Ramadan coincides with one of the most anticipated fruiting seasons in Malaysia; the durian season.
So don’t be surprised to find the king of fruit being sold at the Ramadan bazaar.
While many new food dishes can be found at Ramadan bazaars nowadays, the veterans, or the classics, are still as popular as they ever were.
Ramadan bazaars still serve their purpose to cater to those breaking fast, so stalls that sell dishes such as ayam masak hitam, rendang daging and all types of curry are still the go-to stalls.
Nasi briyani, nasi ayam and mi kolok are among the foods packed individually, perfect for those living alone or family members that want different food from each other for breaking fast.
What is ‘iftar’ in Malaysia without all the kuih muih? Ramadan bazaar would not be complete without delicacies such as kuih lapis, kuih seri muka, kuih ketayap, karipap and kuih talam.
No matter how many changes Ramadan bazaars have gone through over the years; they are still definite proof that food can bring us together. This is one of the few places we can see people from all different walks of life come together under one roof; or in this case under one huge tent.