Top left: a friendly vendor scoops out a portion of rice for a patron; middle: I think the fact that you’re frying fritters in a giant wok of oil makes you cool whether you have the matching shades or not; a delicious selection of rosewater and pandan kuih (cakes) that are seen in abundance this time of year
On Merdaka Day, Malaysia’s Independence Day, we checked out a Ramadan Bazaar. I’d heard from a few friends here and there that a lively bazaar takes place downtown, not far from our usual stomping grounds. We weren’t disappointed; the scene was jovial, packed with people, and best of all, brimming with delicious food.
I’m not sure if we’ve acclimatized to living in Malaysia or whether it was just the general mood of the bazaar, but what a difference a year makes. Last year, we moved here during Hari Raya and immediately took to exploring night markets and Ramadan bazaars, although we weren’t sure at the time what we were looking at. Maybe it was our perpetual “deer in headlights” appearance, but we didn’t find many chances to mingle much with locals or to learn about what delicious treats we were stuffing into our mouths.
Top: curry puffs filled with potato; bottom: a variety of skewers, just RM 2 ($0.60) for 5
This year, as soon as we arrived at the bazaar, vendors beckoned to us to try their wares, and we were surprised that we could actually name most of the foods. Everyone was in a great mood, and the heavy scent of oil was lingering in the air from multiple woks frying up everything from samosas to karipaps (curry puffs) to squid skewers to fish ball won tons. The hubby and I walked the 30 or so stalls lining the street to get a lay of the land, then doubled back and bought some snacks. Well, okay, a lot of snacks.
These guys were selling curry puffs and a variety of other curries for rice; oh, and they were also really happy to see us
I think I’ve discovered the problem with Ramadan bazaars and really friendly people. For any visitor, the food options are vast and tempting. Portions of chicken rice are laid out appealingly in ready-to-go takeout boxes. Cakes of every color and flavor form a colorful mosaic on folding tables. There’s always a satay grill somewhere churning out smoky, chargrilled meat. And when someone smiles at you and is clearly proud of the little ball of wonder he’s just deep-fried for your enjoyment, it’s hard to resist not buying at least one to try. Besides, what’s thirty cents for a little fried goodness, between friends?
Oh, but here’s the rub: you can’t eat any of it at the bazaar, not while it’s fresh. If you arrive before sunset, the appropriate thing to do is to take the food for later, for breaking the fast. For two non-Muslims holding about 20 sacks of fried amazingness between them, it’s sheer torture.
Top: I loved this man for his chicken wings and sassy arm-warmers; bottom: the many colors and flavors of cakes tempted me so much that I accidentally bought a durian-flavored cake, which smelled like sugar and rotting garbage
What this means is that we ended up toting our little plastic bags back to the car and surreptitiously eating everything in there. Due to my giant unborn baby, though, I couldn’t make it the hundred yards or so from the bazaar to the car without busting open my prize find of the night, a batch of battered and deep-fried chicken skin. I mean, why has no one invented this yet in the U.S.? It’s the best part of the fried chicken, without that pesky chicken part getting in the way.
In total, we spent less than $10 on an armload of food, and at some point during our drive home, I think the windows of our car fogged up with palm oil residue.
It was totally worth it, though.