Salam Aidil Fitri

A section of shoppers at the Larkin Ramadan Bazaar
Every year I make my way to the Ramadan Bazaar in Larkin to soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the mouth-watering aromas from live-cooking stalls among the rows upon rows of stalls that sell pre-cooked food for the breaking-of-fast.  

The Bazaar in Larkin is reputed to be among the best and when it coincides with the regular Sunday evening pasar malam or night market, the crowd is overwhelming and needless to say, the traffic – horrendous!


 
Minced beef murtabak cooking on hotplate
I must confess that this year, I had an acute craving for apam balik, the thick version of this pancake – served freshly made from its cast iron pan, spread with melting butter and sprinkled liberally with crushed toasted peanuts and sugar.  This craving was compounded by my mum who told me that when she went to the bank with her brother, he bought delicious apam balik from the stall outside the bank and she enjoyed every bite with a cup of hot coffee.  I hoped that she brought home a slice for me but I was told that it was so good that they finished it.  I made a mental note to get some from that stall outside the bank but by the time I got around to it, the stall had closed for Ramadan!

So my quest for good apam balik continued relentlessly in the month of Ramadan.  As I fought the traffic to find a parking lot at the rear of the stadium, I was focused on finding some freshly made apam to savour.  My sister insisted that I should find it at the Larkin Ramadan Bazaar and even though she started buying some of our favourites like freshly-fried vadai and minced beef murtabak, I refused to be sidetracked.  Even the enticing aromas from sizzling sambal on fish being grilled on banana leaves, did not distract me from my hunt for apam balik. 

Original thick version of apam balik pancake!
“Over here!” I read the hand signal my sister made and I quickened my steps to join her in front of the stall that sold stacks of apam balik – the thick kind – exactly what I had desired for so long!  I don’t think it was my vivid imagination, born from yearning for so long but I could almost hear the steam hissing from the hot apam on the top-most stack and I pointed to, not one but two slices, and the vendor deftly sliced through its thickness and wrapped it up for me.  The buttery fragrance seemed to tantalize quite agonizingly and it crossed my mind to take a quick bite but good sense and propriety prevailed so I put the thought out and refrained because it was still not yet time for the breaking-of-fast. 

Ayam percik on bamboo sticks
 
I had my first experience with Ramadan fasting in secondary school when we showed our solidarity with our Muslim friends and fasted along with them.  It was quite a feat for the mind and body because no food or water should pass through the lips for hours. 

Our warm and humid weather challenged us to deal with the desire to drink as everyone agreed that our thirst greatly out-weighed the desire for food.  There was also no air-conditioning in our classroom and I can still remember how parched I felt but just held on in a spirit of true camaraderie.

When I was in my first job in Pasir Gudang, my fasting experience in school and the long work hours on the job, trained me to fast along with my Muslim colleagues.  I remember how Usha Nair and I fasted along with Noormala and at the end of the work day the company car would take us to a nearby restaurant where we would buy a packed meal to break our fast later.  It was just simple nasi goreng or fried rice, but it tasted heavenly!

Looking back on those experiences, I can relate to what it means to fast from dawn to dusk. And if we feel that our tropical weather is a challenge to our fasting, then we should consider how our Muslim friends in the Middle East who experience desert climates, are even more challenged to deal with their hunger and thirst. 

Bunches of ready-made ketupat for sale
It truly is a treat to berbuka puasa or to break your fast at a hotel where there is a wide array of food served in an attractively laid out buffet.  But for most families where the parents work long hours, the next best thing is to buy a wide selection of food to create their own little buffet spread at home.  While the Ramadan Bazaars provide a real service to busy people who need to find some delicious food to break their fast, it is also a destination for non-Muslims who are seeking Malay delicacies.  These regular bazaar patrons know where to go for their favourite Malay food and every year, they look forward to the Ramadan month so that they can indulge in some of their favourite Malay dishes and desserts that are home-made and delicious!

Hj Halim [bearded man!] at new stall
 
One of the most popular shopping destinations in Johor Baru during Ramadan must be Angsana Mall and even though the open-air parking areas have increased, it is almost jam packed daily but regulars still manage to find a spot to park around the mall. 
 
To join in the festive mood, I decided to brave the traffic to Angsana Mall to have a look at the Raya cakes and cookies there.  I was very fortunate that a car was just backing out to leave in front of the mall when I arrived and I parked in a legal parking space. 
 
I made a beeline for the Raya Bazaar that was set up in a tent outside the mall but first, I must pass the recently refurbished food court.  I paused to take in the view of new rows of tables and brightly coloured chairs but my eyes were riveted to the long queue of more than a dozen people waiting to be served at Haji Wahid’s mee rebus! 


 
More than a dozen people queuing up for mee rebus!
 
I caught a glimpse of Haji Halim heaving a giant pot of gravy behind the counter and had to stop to say hello to my friend.  As Haji Halim was stepping out of his stall for a quick chat, my sister commented to me in a whisper that the only queue in the food court was for Hj Wahid’s famous mee rebus!  It appears that fans of his noodles are always prepared to queue for takeaways because I know that at meal hours even on normal days, there is often a queue to order and eat!

The sight of the hungry queue and happy throng of last-minute shoppers in the mall certainly put me in the Raya mood.  I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to a taste of ketupat and rendang and a sampling of all the irresistible traditional kueh Raya. Here’s my sincere Salam Hari Raya Aidil Fitri wish to all Muslim friends - may you have a happy family reunion and do drive safely!  

/pl

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