The most-awaited month is approaching, for various reasons.
For Muslims, this month of fasting is also the month to enhance their relationship with Allah by doing more good, be it towards each other or by increasing number of prayers and reciting the Holy Quran.
For Non-Muslims (and many Muslims too, if you’re really honest!), this is also a month of enjoying food. Yes, Malaysians generally enjoy food on a daily basis, but during Ramadan, there is something special in the air, the hustle-bustle at the Bazaars, that takes the whole experience to another level.
Be it the common martabak, roti John, or the sweet and silky tepung pelita, everyone has their favourite must-have dish when breaking fast.
Here are some ‘Ramadan rarities’ from a few select States around Malaysia.
When I went back to Kelantan to my in-law’s place a few years back, I was very much intrigued when I saw some of the dishes available at the local Bazaar. One of which was lemak bakar, or literally translated, grilled fat. Yes, FAT. It was really a chunk of cow fat on a stick, grilled over an open fire. I was fascinated! Out of curiosity, we bought one to try. It was weird, because when you bit down on it, it was like an ‘oil balloon’ that just burst in your mouth! If you are a fan of the fatty bits from a perfectly-cooked sirloin, you MUST try this!
Another dish which was unusual, even to my in-laws, was apam telur. It looked like a rolled up egg omelette, slightly sweet with a filling of shaved young coconut. And it was delicious!! Another must-try dish if ever you are in Kelantan during Ramadan.
Sweet desserts are not uncommon in Kelantan and Terengganu, and one of the elusive ones that only often appear during Ramadan is nekbat.
Nekbat is made from rice flour, sugar and eggs, and the syrup it is drenched in contains cloves and pandan leaves, giving it a unique spicy-sweet aroma.
Way down South, in Johor, the absolute MUST when breaking fast is air kathira. It is a milky-green concoction made from blended dates, milk (some use soy milk, some use evaporated milk), and added to it is some basil seeds, kembang semangkuk, and a dash of rose water. It is said to be really nutritious and great for quenching one’s thirst.
Another dish which is difficult to find on normal days is botok-botok ikan. Fresh whole or sliced fish is laid on banana leaves, drenched in a spicy, aromatic sambal sauce, then covered with fresh herbs and various ‘ulam’, then wrapped carefully and steamed till cooked through. Best enjoyed with a plate of steamed white rice!
Let’s journey back up North to Kedah, and savour the uniqueness of this one particular dish – Nasi Ulam.
Because of the meticulous preparation required to prepare this dish, one will not easily find it outside of Ramadan.
A variety of fresh herbs and ‘ulam’, some of which are quite rare, are sliced really finely, combined with fried salted fish, grilled Indian Mackerel (ikan kembung), and a basic sambal, it is then topped off with toasted coconut paste (kerisik). Everything is then mixed together to form a beautiful, aromatic, healthy rice dish. One can enjoy it on its own, or with a side serving of asam rebus keladi, a savoury dish made from yam stems.
And there you have it, some of the rare dishes which one can only find at the bazaars during Ramadan. You can probably find a few of them at the bazaars in the Klang Valley, but really, nothing beats the original!