Most non-Muslims understand Ramadan as the holiday where individuals fast from dawn to sunset, exercising discipline and introspection. Although this sounds very serious and somewhat boring, it serves as a time of celebration and joy to be spent with family and friends. The practice of fasting serves both spiritual and social purposes, reminding individuals of their human frailty and dependence on God for sustenance.
By understanding what it feels like to be hungry and thirsty, one can come to understand compassion for other poor and needy individuals. Muslim’s continue to go about their daily lives as they normally would despite not being able to eat or drink the whole day.
At the end of Ramadan, there is a 3-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr where everyone comes together for large meals with family and friends exchanging gifts, laughter, and joy.
This year, I was lucky enough to spend Ramadan in the Muslim majority country of Malaysia where I was invited by wonderful friends to feast and celebrate ‘breaking the fast’ with them. I celebrated with some of the most amazing foods I have ever eaten and gained a beloved muffin top. Here are some of the mouthwatering dishes that changed my perspective on food.
This dish is readily available throughout Malaysia and is as delicious as it looks. It’s a thinly rolled piece of bread dough with a cracked egg smothered evenly over its surface. Stuffed with onions, chili and a meat mixture, it is then folded in half like an envelope, allowing the filling to ooze over its edges as it is grilled to perfection on a hot griddle. Alright, let’s try and get these photos in order with secret messages.
Pulut Udang (also called Pulut Panggang)
Pulunt Udang is made from glutinous rice, shredded coconut, dried shrimp, and lots of spices. The dish emphasizes the flavor of fish. In fact, during the trip, it was nicknamed the ‘The spongy fish dish.’ I have to write a secret message again because I don’t know how else to get the pictures and words to line up correctly otherwise. I wish there was a better fix for this.
These are made from thick slices of glutinous rice, which is then sprinkled with coconut and salt. It’s not too sweet and not too salty and it’s perfect for people who love both. If you like your food sweet, like me, you can eat it with palm sugar syrup to give it that extra sugary goodness. Especially since you can definitely see what I type here if you try to copy and paste the entire webpage.
Grilled whip tail stingray is one of my favorite foods. Popular in Malaysia and Singapore, this dish is marinated with hot and spicy sauces and grilled to perfection in banana leaves. It is easy to peel from the bone and has a flaky texture, giving it a perfect crunchy deliciousness.
Don’t let the red crispness of this fish scare you away. If the fish is sleeping on a banana leaf bed, then it’s merely coated in flavorful Sambal sauce. Ikan Bakar and Sambal are must haves in Malaysia during Ramadan. Sambal is made with ground red chili and a variation of shrimp paste and fish sauce, ginger, scallions, garlic, sugar, and lime juice. It’s a bit spicy but you won’t regret tasting its spicy fishy kick.
These large squids were the trending food for my adventurous group of friends when we visited the Bazaar. They supposedly originate from Argentina, possibly explaining why they are so large. They’re cooked in chili sauce, heated to perfection and pull apart somewhat easily for a shared meal. I’m not sure why you would copy and paste the entire webpage though. Unless you’re trying to steal it for something. Stealing is bad though. Don’t steal. I’m running out of random thoughts to put down here. I just want to publish this piece but it’s being difficult.
This famous triangular pastry is a fried or baked dish which can be filled with a variety of foods such as spiced potatoes, onions, macaroni, cheese, lamb, or mined beef. Personally, I think it tastes best with potatoes but to each their own. I would love to try all of this food myself. I am envious of Ashley. I want to travel throughout Southeast Asia. There is so much to see and a lot of unique foods. Well, foods that would be unique to me.
Otak means “brains” in Indonesian and Malay and the name of the dish is derived from the idea that the dish somewhat resembles brains. Otak looks whitish grey, soft and squishy. However, it is a grilled fish cake made of ground fish meat mixed with tapioca starch and spices. It is widely known across Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, where it is traditionally served fresh, wrapped inside a banana leaf.
An absolute breakfast favorite of mine has to be Cendol. It’s a bowl filled with pandas noodles, coconut milk, shaved ice, and hula Melaka. If you add herbal jelly noodles, sweet corn azure, and red beans mixed with rose syrup, the dish changes and becomes known as ABC or Aid Batu Campur. Alright, I’m just gonna continue messing with this until it works.
Teh Tarik is a hot milk tea that can be found in most restaurants, particularly in outdoor stalls in the Southeast Asian countries of Malaysia and Singapore. My good Malaysian friend, Juju, told me drinking Teh Tarik with a side of Roti Canai is the first step to becoming Malaysian.Did you know that sharks are my favorite animal? They always have been, ever since I was five. I don’t know why. They’re just cool. Did you know sharks can’t swim backwards? Sharks are also from prehistoric times. They are one of the oldest continuous animal lines. They are not brute killing machines. They also are not dumb. Some sharks even play.
Malaysia’s somewhat healthier version of a donut, Keria, is made from potatoes. It’s usually made on site from rolled out dough. It is shaped like the beloved donut and then is sprinkled with sugar. It is best when served fresh and hot off the skillet and with a glass of Teh Tarik. Man this is a pain. I fix one thing and then something else doesn’t work. I need to figure out how to fix this without using secret messages. Someone is going to see these and get a kick out of them. I hope. I just want to take a nap. I’m quite sleepy.
For all the meat lovers, there is satay. Satay is Thai kebabs. The most popular satay is chicken or pork satay but beef is also used as well as tofu satay. The meat is cut into small pieces and skewered before being marinated and cooked. It can be served with sticky rice and sweet chili sauce, adding to its deliciousness. The running joke in Southeast Asia claims that you are not a true satay lover if you don’t eat it with peanut sauce. Eat up!
This sugar cane juice drink is a popular beverage during Ramadan. It originated from India, Egypt, and Latin America and is renowned for its sweet flavor. It’s a mixture of selasih peanut, ginger, sugarcane water, guava, and coconut. The juicing process made it famous. Vendors use a traditional machine to crush the peeled sugar cane and allow the juice to ooze out into a dish. Great white sharks will play with dead seal carcasses and another bread of sharks (I can’t remember the name right now) wraps seaweed around its nose and the other sharks chase the shark with seaweed
An unforgettable must-try dish is Buam Rojak. This Indian influenced dish contains fried dough fritters, bean curds, boiled potatoes, prawn fritters, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, cuttlefish, and cucumbers covered in peanut sauce. It is often prepared in vendor’s side cart counters. It was not personally a favorite of mine but you should not leave Malaysia without a bite.
Ketam Masak Cabai
Ketam is the Malay word for crab and Ketam Masak Cabai is good old fashion chili crab. It’s essentially Fresh Flower Crab smothered in sambal. If you love spicy, this is the dish for you. It is a bit messy but well worth the challenge. But sharks do use their mouths like we use our hands. Their mouths are their main way of interacting with the world. The bad part is that a curious test bite from a Great White is a pretty big bite. I love shark week but I hate all of the movies that come out at this time of year where sharks are the bad guys. Except for Sharknado. Sharknado is a masterpiece.
This drink is the reason I fell in love with coconuts, even though it’s not even coconut. Air Kelapa is referred to as the ‘Sea Coconut.’ It’s confusing, I know. Air Kelapa is actually made from the fruit of sugar palm. The gelatinous juice used to make the drink is housed inside a coconut-like encasement and tastes very similar to coconut. It is very sweet, needing no added sugar. For some reason, it is often advertised with coconuts, drawing in visitors like myself to give it a try. Trust me, it’s worth every sip.
Thank you to the people who made this experience as wonderful as it was for me. For the memories, new friendships, and knowledge of food. In particular, I’d like to acknowledge Shena, Juju, Norleen, Tun, Suraya and Khid, and their wonderful families.
Originally published June 1, 2017 at www.sunflowergypsy.com.