My first Ramadan

I knew Ramadan was going to be a big thing in Malaysia when I saw that Tesco was selling special Ramadan boxes of tissues –

Hari Raya is the Malay name for Eid, which will be celebrated next Sunday after a month of fasting.

In the daytime, it’s difficult to notice much difference, as most of the Malays carry out their fasting quietly and with little fuss.  The only difference is the appalling traffice between 5 and 7 pm when Muslims all rush home to prepare for breaking fast at the designated time.

If you’re not sure what time you can start to eat in the evening, the newspapers publish the time every day, or you can look online

This website shows us that today the morning meal must be finished before prayers which start at 5.41 am, and then the Iftar, which is the name for the meal when they break fast, can start at 7.24 pm.

I went to an Iftar meal last week with a group of women, organised by Amal, on the left, who is quite the most glamorous headscarf-wearer that I’ve ever seen – she reminded me of a cross between Liza Minelli in her heyday, and Lawrence of Arabia.

All of these women are Muslim, but come from different cultures with very different approaches to Islam, but they are all fasting for Ramadan.

I learned that Malay men can be imprisoned for a month if they are seen eating publicly during the day at Ramadan, and they also have to pay a hefty fine.  It’s not so stringent for women, as there’s a variety of reasons which exempt them from fasting; although if they don’t fast they’re expected to either make up the time later, or feed the poor instead.

But Malaysia being Malaysia, it seems that Ramadan is all about the Iftar i.e. all about the food.  There is a night food market every evening in each part of town, and all the hotels and a lot of the restaurants put on an Iftar buffet every evening, all trying to outdo each other with the splendiferous spread on offer.

So, purely in the interests of research, I went along to one yesterday evening with my dining chums Glenn and Jeff and two friends of theirs from Bangladesh –

It was a fantastic experience – I’ve never seen so much delicious food in one place before.

And it wasn’t just Malay food … there was a sushi chef

And a chef slicing raw fish and octopus, japanese-style

Plus the shellfish, of course –

– and I even impressed myself with my restraint when it came to a helping of these

… and it was a jolly small plate too.

It was a bit like waiting for New Year to strike, and as soon as 7.23 arrived, the hordes descended

I was particularly taken with the melons carved into dahlias

but I’m not sure what the strange potato-things are … I didn’t try one just in case it was a potato.

There was even a chocolate fountain

and a whole range of other yummy puddings

We eventually rolled out of the restaurant, discussing imminent diets, about two and a half hours later.

I’ve been invited to another Iftar next Thursday … can’t wait.

 

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