When celebrating Ramadan in Malaysia and Singapore, millions of Malay Muslims spend the daylight hours avoiding food - it makes sense that the food awaiting them at iftar (the end-of-day breaking of the fast) should be good, hearty, traditional Malay food that warms the soul and rewards the assiduous Muslim after his day of sacrifice.
Ramadan bazaars are full of such Malay dishes - curries, rendang, porridges, roasts, and rice cakes in endless varieties, together with sweets, pastries, and traditional juices. A few of the most common (and most beloved) traditional dishes follow below.
Bubur lambuk is a rice porridge with a variety of ingredients, including sweet potatoes, prawns, beef, and herbs. Bubur lambuk is a comfort food, favored more for its easy-to-digest constitution than its flavor. Bubur lambuk is traditionally served free to the public during buka puasa, after sunset when Muslims are free to break their fast.
The preparation of bubur lambuk is a communal event, sponsored by corporations in urban Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia, and prepared in huge batches to feed whole communities.
Ketupat is a dumpling made of rice cooked in a woven palm leaf container. The rice is cooked inside the woven pouch - as the rice absorbs water, it expands, and the palm leaf container compresses the rice mass. Ketupat is never eaten on its own; it usually accompanies a dish of rendang or satay.
For Malays, ketupat is a symbol of Aidilfitri, in much the same way that mistletoe or a Yule log is a symbol of Christmas in the West.
Lontong is a Malay dish made of compressed rice, cooked in rolled-up banana leaf, then cut into small cakes. This dish is usually served together with meat or vegetable dishes, including gado-gado, curries (see image), and satay.
Lemang is another type of compressed rice food; it's made of glutinous rice, coconut milk, and salt, all cooked in a hollowed bamboo stick lined with banana leaf. Malays usually eat lemang with chicken curry or beef rendang.
Rendang is a preparation of beef, duck, or chicken that has been slowly cooked in coconut milk and spices over the space of a few hours. (Spices favored for rendang include ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, chili, and blue ginger or galangal.) The long cooking time reduces the sauce and lets the spices permeate into the meat. As the oils seep out and the moisture evaporates, the simmering converts into a frying process.
Ayam Percik comes from Malaysia's east coast, a marinated chicken bathed in a spicy coconut gravy and roasted over charcoal.
Murtabak is a wrap-style food composed of a roti outer shell stuffed with varied fillings. Murtabak can be stuffed with minced mutton or minced chicken, onions and egg. Newer innovations have sardine or cheese fillings.
Literally "rice salad", nasi kerabu is made of blue-colored rice (cooked with the bunga telang flower that colors the grains blue) combined with bean sprouts, cucumber, salted egg, fish crackers, pickled garlic, fish fillet, and chilis, tossed in a coconut-based gravy.