Arts & Culture
How to Celebrate Ramadan in Malaysia
As it happens (and as I write this), month number nine of the Muslim calendar is halfway over. Yes, Ramadan is upon us. But while the holy holiday and foremost pillar of Islam is a time of piety and dawn to dusk abstinence, for tourists in a country like Malaysia, Ramadan proffers up another side.
A side that includes tidy lines of brightly-coloured tents exhaling plumes of aromatic smoke, the simmering din of hawkers peeling, chopping, grilling, frying and steaming and a gathering storm of famished denizens coming to sate the twelve hour fast in reply to a clarion clanging of pots, pans and utensils and telltale calls of “Ah Moi! Mari mari!”.
Welcome to Ramadan in Malaysia, where the obvious riposte to the question “As a visitor, how do I celebrate the Holy Month?” is quite succinctly: Ramadan bazaars!
Ramadan Bazaar, Shah Alam, Malaysia – Photo credit
Malaysia is a spectacularly diverse and rich target for global epicures as it is but the month prior to Eid-ul-Fitr elevates the food stakes considerably. There is the fast, of course, but with a little pain (a twelve hour fast is remarkably tolerable with a pre-sunrise and post-sunset repast to bookend it) comes a little pleasure. In the Islamic world, this comes in the form of beautiful communal suppers to mark the end of the fast, replete with reflective post-prandial palavers that often endure lazily and late into the night.
The markets of urban Malaysia serve as community and cultural conductors and duly snare the masses as a result. Take a close look and observe and it is impossible to conclude that hawker stalls are just about food and commerce. No, there is definitely more at play. That magic is in full evidence for Ramadan.
The Ramadan bazaars of Malaysia typically set up by 3 p.m., regardless of when dusk arrives (in July and August the sun sets by 7:30 p.m. in Kuala Lumpur). That gives hawkers plenty of time to cook up for the peckish queues. Because the hungry hordes do come, in droves. For the average visitor and neophyte, the human traffic, a sublime sensorial expo, can be absurdly fantastical.
But enough talk. Time to decide where to end your Ramadan fast in Malaysia.
Jalan Makloom, George Town
Good for: nasi briyani, popiah, murtabak, ayam percik, onde onde, jagung, cincau, mata kucing.
Where to stay: Traders Hotel Penang
Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur
Good for: bubur lambuk, bubur sum sum, quail eggs, kebabs, crab legs, roti jala, kuih cara.
Where to stay: The Zon All Suite Residences Kuala Lumpur
Taman Melawati, Kuala Lumpur
Good for: tepung pelita, spit lamb, murtabak, popiah zaitun, putu bambu, kuih seri ayu, yam cake.
Where to stay: Smile Boutique Hotel Kuala Lumpur
Pandan Indah, Selangor
Good for: pandan kaya, char kuey teow, ayam golek, nasi lemak, rojak paru goreng.
Where to stay: Berjaya Times Square Hotel Kuala Lumpur
Taman Sri Serdang, Selangor
Good for: lemang pulut hitam, apam balik, puteri mandi, ikan keli, solok lada, nasi kerabu, kuih ayu.
Where to stay: Shangri-La Hotel Putrajaya