Ramadan Buzz Bazaar

By Sheere Ng, Images by KF Seetoh - Wednesday, Aug 01, 2012

The noise reached to a peak when the sun was about to set. More people joined in the queues, the food vendors touted even more aggressively, and the radios were turned on and blasted from several loud speakers. Then the energetic vibe diminishes when a very calm and monotonous voice boomed through the speakers. A few minutes later the call to prayer or, Azaan begins – it was time to break fast. Every Muslim there – stallholders, customers and passers-by momentarily paused and lifted up their drinks, in bottles, plastic bags and cups, to take that grateful sip since sunrise. Then the feeding frenzy starts.


We were at the Ramadan bazaar at Geylang Serai, where the same scene repeats day after day as our Muslim friends observe their daily fasting ritual in the holy month of Ramadan. While the frying, grilling, stewing and brewing happens all day, no one drinks or eats, except for the exempted (sick, very young, or infirmed with medical conditions). You can find the usual fare such as nasi briyani, “Ramly” burgers, and all sorts of fried snacks. The crowd throngs the place and buy foodstuff ahead, sometimes, way ahead of the break fast hour. Some of these foods are only available during this festive season. And every year, the old and new items sit together to please demanding palates…


1. All sorts of food for all people at the Ramadan bazaar.


2. Daeng Daeng flooded the scene about a decade ago. This grilled meat is made to emulate the Chinese bak kwa, which is haram to the Muslims. Daeng Daeng is either made of minced chicken or beef and comes in spicy or non-spicy flavours. It is highly popular but only available during Ramadan as it is too expensive ($5 for 100g) for a regular-day snack.


3. Bishop’s Nose (chicken backside): This Japanese style yakitori skewer is now available, Halal-style and mildly spiced. About six juicy derrieres are marinated, deep fried and then skewered like satay. Not for the faint hearted. This is uncommon at regular pasar malams or Muslim fried food stalls.


4. Dates: Traditionally, Muslims should break fast with dates and a glass of milk. And not any number of dates, it has to be odd numbered. Most do so in a respectful emulation of the Prophet Muhammad, which would bring about a sense of closeness to Allah. There are many varieties of dates, and the most expensive (more than double the price of the regular medjool) is Ajwa, as it is said to be The Prophet’s favourite.


5. Air Katira is a popular drink amongst the Muslims, especially during the Ramadan period. The sweet drink, which taste like rose milk syrup, gives them that quick pick-me-up that they need after fasting for over 12 hours. There are basil seeds and boat sterculia seeds (pong tai hai, also found in cheng tng) in the Air Katira offered here.


6. Duck: The Muslims are not big fans of duck and the fowl is hardly featured in their cuisine. Halal duck suppliers are few and far between too. But in the last couple of years, this has begun making a debut at Ramadan bazaars. According to the stallholder here, people initially buy for novelty’s sake, but now, there’s a growing acceptance of its flavour.


7. Japanese Tako Balls: The snack was first made popular at the Takashimaya Food Hall over ten years ago and now it is made available in halal food bazaars.


8. The Muslims love their fried snacks. It includes things like the traditional keropok lekor (fish cracker) as well as foreign-influenced goodies like mini soft shell crabs.


9. The most popular snack at the bazaar has to be Mr Wadeh’s prawn vadai. It attracts a perpetual queue and is sold out before dusk.


It’s feeding frenzy at dinner after Azaan, the call prayer that indicates dusk and the time to break fast.