The festival of Ramadan (Ramadhan, or Bulan Puasa in Malay) is an important event in the Muslim calendar, a time of personal reflection and bonding with one's family.
Muslims throughout Southeast Asia commemorate Ramadan by fasting throughout the daylight hours. Fasting is required of all capable Muslims, who must refrain from indulging base needs like eating and smoking while the sun is up.
At the end of the day, Muslims break their fast (buka puasa) with a huge meal called iftar, usually eaten communally at home or at bazaars that are set up specifically for Ramadan and Hari Raya Aidilfitri, the joyous end of Ramadan.
Fasting ends when the new moon is sighted on the final evening of Ramadhan. Once sighted, the new moon portends the first day of Aidilfitri at sunrise, a joyful end to Ramadan that is as anticipated in Malay households as Christmas is in Western ones.
Ramadan in Southeast Asia is best experienced through the bazaars in cities like Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. These bazaars are closed throughout the day, but come to life in the late afternoon as bazaar food shops prepare food for Muslims breaking their fast at sundown.
The bazaars continue to operate through the night, providing food and shopping for both Muslims and non-Muslim visitors alike.
Traditional Malay dishes are the top draw at Ramadan bazaars - chicken rice, curries, rice cakes, and juices are ready to be sampled in these bazaars' tightly-packed warrens. These dishes are cooked on the spot over open coals, freshness guaranteed.
- Find out more about Ramadan Foods in Malaysia and Singapore.
Ramadan bazaars also offer great shopping value on traditional items, including textiles, clothes, decorative gewgaws, and even modern conveniences like CDs.
Ramadan Bazaars in Malaysia
The Muslim majority in Malaysia (Muslim Malays constitute about 60% of the population) eagerly anticipate the Ramadan bazaars that help them break their fast at the end of the day.
The shoppers in the bazaars aren't all Muslim, though; Malaysian Chinese and foreign tourists also benefit from the bazaars' great eats and bargains.
For pics and food recommendations, nothing beats blogger boo_licious' lavishly-illustrated blog entries reviewing Malaysian Ramadan bazaars in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
- Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur
- Taman Melawati, Kuala Lumpur
- Pandan Indah, Selangor
- Taman Sri Serdang, Selangor
- USJ4, Subang Jaya (Selangor)
- Shah Alam Stadium, Section 13, Shah Alam (Selangor)
Ramadan Bazaars in Singapore
Singapore's Ramadan bazaars sell food for buka puasa, as well as traditional handicrafts, clothes, and so much more. These can be found all over the island, but the biggest ones are on Kampong Glam and Geylang Serai.
Kampong Glam Hari Raya Food and Goods Bazaar
This bazaar holds about 40 stalls selling many Ramadan-only treats like sago drinks, dates, and kueh, on top of groaning tables-full of ethnic Malay dishes and handicrafts. The bazaar extends from the Sultan Mosque down the length of Kandahar Street, and reaching Sultan Gate. The Kampong Glam bazaar can be reached via MRT, just stop at Bugis station (EW12).
Iftar at Kampong Glam
Compound of Sultan Mosque and Muscat Street
Many Singaporean Muslims break their fast communally in front of the Sultan Mosque, an experience you can join yourself! Try the traditional iftar foods cherished by Muslims: dates, congee, rice, noodles, and the milky passion fruit drink called kathira. Kampong Glam can be reached via MRT, just stop at Bugis station (EW12).
Geylang Ramadan Bazaar
Joo Chiat Road and Geylang Serai
The Ramadan Bazaar at Geylang Serai is famous for its food, with specialties from Malaysia including nasi lemak, ayam panggang, and Ramly burgers. Dishes from other Muslim countries make an appearance here, too, from shawarma to Turkish ice cream, not to mention popular foodcourt favorites like dimsum and Japanese takoyaki. Apart from food, the Geylang bazaar also features stalls selling clothes, souvenirs, and many other goods that reflect Singapore’s multicultural makeup.
- For a taste of food in Malaysia, read our articles on Malaysian Indian food and Malaysian noodle dishes.
Hari Raya Puasa
Muslims welcome the end of Ramadan (called Hari Raya Puasa, or Aidilfitri) by going back to their hometowns and spending the Aidilfitri season with their close family members. City-based Malays spend the whole day visiting family and friends, decked out in matching baju Melayu and baju kurung.
For practicing Muslims, Hari Raya Aidilfitri is a day that celebrates personal triumph over one's appetites - each Muslim feels purified and renewed by weeks of fasting.
Muslims begin the day by going to the mosque for morning prayers. Breakfast at home follows (the first daylight meal in a long time), then family members visit cemeteries to offer prayers for the dearly departed.
Younger family members seek blessings from elders by kissing their hands and greeting them "Selamat Hari Raya", or "happy Hari Raya". Children are also given packets of money by their elders.