Ramadhan in Malaysia

As the sun begins to set and the Maghrib call to prayer resonates through the air from nearly mosques; Muslims bow their heads together, reciting a short prayer, ending the day’s fasting period by sharing a meal with family and friends.

Ramadhan is a very special month, a month of reflection and of religious observance, a month of serenity and a chance to show gratitude for all the blessings in life.  Fasting, abstaining from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset, grows a sense of empathy towards the poor, encouraging people to be more giving and helpful to those in need.

Visiting Malaysia in the month of Ramadhan is a unique experience as one gets to see the sights and scenes of the country you otherwise would not.  While Muslims in the country take the opportunity to strengthen their faith during this holy month, Ramadhan extends its uniqueness to everyone in multicultural Malaysia, locals and visitors alike.

A few hours before breaking fast, most mosques are a hive of activitiy as volunteers, in the spirit of giving, get busy preparing the ingredients and spices to cook the savoury bubur lambuk or mixed rice porridge, which is later distributed to the community and any passers-by. The most famous bubur lambuk is the Masjib Jamek bubur lambuk in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur.  Long queues start to snake around the compound of the mosque as early as 4pm as the distribution to the public is done around 5pm.  What makes the bubur lambuk much more special is perhaps in the sincere heartfelt sense of giving to the community.

As the ritual of the breaking of fast is over and after the Isyak prayer is perfomed, mosques throughout the country begin to fill with Muslim, young and old, wanting to perform the terawih, a special prayer conducted only in the month of Ramadham. Beautiful and melodious verses from the Quran are recited by the imams leading the congregation in prayer. Many mosques even go the extra mile to invite renowned imams from the Middle East to lead the terawih.

These prayer sessions often end with a small supper served in the courtyard of the mosques, where the food is often brought by the lcoal community or contributed by individuals to be shared with everyone.  There is a feeling of camaraderie as everyone sits close together, sharing a meal and enjoying the company of one another.

Apart from the spiritual and religious practices of the Muslim community in the country, many non-Muslim Malaysians also look forward to the month as it is also a time for them to enjoy the various traditional foods that are sold in the local Ramadhan bazaar. These bazaars – with traders lined up along a whole stretch of road in most residential areas – sprout around the country during the month and are welcomed by Malaysian from all walk of life.

ramadhanVisiting a Ramadhan bazaar is like taking a culinary walk through Malaysia with all kinds of scents and sights greeting you as you slowly make your way from one stall to another…the smoky aroma of chicken satay cooking over charcoal flames…fish delicately wrapped in banana leaf and grilled on a smoking plate…ayan golek or chicken marinated in herbs and spices, spining slowly on the rotisserie. It’s enough to make you transfixed, weighing in your choices of either buying the satay, the grilled fish or perhaps the tender, juicy and succulent roasted chicken.

At another end of the bazaar you will probably find a Kelantanese couple selling the kuik akok, a popular Kelantan sweet cake, make from a mixture of duck eggs, coconut milk and brown sugar. The taste and texture of the kuih akok is similar to creme brulee, delicious despite its humble appearance.

Head on over to the stalls selling nasi dagang, a mix of white and brown glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk infused with blended onions, garlic and spices such as the fenugreek. The dish is complemented with a side of fish curry and pickled vegetables.  Don’t forget Malaysia’s famous laksa dishes – thick, white noodles served with sweet, sour and spicy fish broth and whose recipes differ slightly depending on its state of origin.

To further titillate your gastronomic experience, stop by some murtabak, a thick meat or chicken patty mixed with onions, herbs and eggs stacked high by the frying pan just waiting to be packed and sold.  For those looking for something sweet, the tepung pelita is a must try. A two-layered dessert encased in a small square box made from banana leaf, the tepung pelita is a rice custard gently stream to achieve a soft and creamy texture with a hint of saltiness in its top layer.

These Ramadhan bazaars are not only for food enthusiast. Those with an eye for photography will find the vibrant colours of the food and the lively characters of the hawkers and customers a challenge for the lenses to capture. For days when you wish to dine out, many hotels and restaurants feature Ramadhan buffets offering a variety of choices.  Most hotels even have a dedicated space for the convenience of its guests to perform the terawih prayers.

Even though Malaysia is a multiracial country, tourists visiting in the month of Ramadhan will not face any problems in scouring around for food or getting around the country during the day as restaurants, shopping establishments and government offices open for business as usual.

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