Ramadan, Southeast Asia & Food

It’s Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month. The sentiments behind the month are noble – not eating or drinking and abstaining from other activities such as smoking during daylight hours is intended to promote empathy with the poor among the faithful.

It is also a time of socialising.  In Malaysia and Indonesia (Indonesia has the world’s largest Islamic population) many people hold an open house each evening whereby friends and neighbours can drop by and break the fast together. The meals often are large and lavish after a long day of not eating.

Selamat buka puasa is the greeting many Malays will say to each other each evening – literally, ‘best wishes for opening (breaking) your fast’. Many senior politicians will be hold an open house and often anyone can attend – no invitation is necessary. It becomes an important time for voters to drop in on their local representatives to socialise and perhaps even raise important issues.

The socialising and eating each evening has become such a tradition that ironically, food consumption actually increases during the fasting month in many Islamic countries. In Malaysia and Indonesia, for example, cold storage facilities must carry excess capacity all year just to cope with the extra chilled meat and vegetables that are needed the fasting month. Hotels too will raise prices for their buffets during the month so that they can cover the increase in consumption and keep up with the extra demand for dining out.

It is a wonderful thing that Ramadan brings people together to share their buka puasa, but many Muslims do now decry the fact that the original intent of the fasting month – empathy with the poor – has been lost, in the way that Christmas has been grossly over-commercialised in countries such as the US, the UK and Australia with an orgy of gift giving –  after all, the three wise kings brought three gifts only for the infant Jesus, not thirty, and they were not all made in China.

Shown below are some traditional items we have in stock that are associated with food and eating in Malaysia and Indonesia. The receptacles are of metal, so probably were treated as ‘special’ and were reserved for important occasions such as break the fast during Ramadan.  The cage is for catching quails.  Selamat Ramadan dan selamat buka puasa!

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