The great thing about living in a multicultural society is that you get to enjoy the festivals and gastronomic delights of the various races. One celebration I look forward to is Hari Raya or Eid, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
I have utmost respect for the Muslims during Ramadan. I can’t diet to save my life (to me that’s the ultimate torture) so the thought of fasting from dawn to dusk without water or food for a whole month is completely herculean in my book. It must make their celebrations at the end of Ramadan all the sweeter after such a sacrifice.
During the day, the makciks in my ‘hood cook up a storm to prepare for the feasts that occur at sundown when the Muslims “buka puasa” or break their fast. There are a number of Muslim families that live along my road and the smell of rendang, satay and baking cookies in the days leading up to Eid is mouth-wateringly tantalising. If we’re lucky, the neighbours next door would pass over a basket of kueh, dates and cookies so that we can break the fast with them too. Yums.
Hari Raya is special because I get to visit the Nenek up the road for some truly authentic Malay cuisine. Nenek and her helper, Fatimah, were my first friends when I moved to Bedok, and they have always welcomed me and my family. Nenek speaks no English and my Bahasa Melayu is probably limited to 50 words but we have a wonderful thing going. Nenek, like all proper makciks, has a well-stocked spice garden at her place. So whenever we’re out of lemongrass (serai), lengkuas or limau purut (kaffir lime) for cooking, we will run up the road to Nenek’s to grab some. Yep, it’s a real kampung, my ‘hood!
This year’s celebration was an orgy of feasting. First stop, my mum’s neighbours. The Alsagoffs are a venerable Arab family in Singapore, and each year, Hari Raya is celebrated in style at their home complete with marquee, hotel-style buffet spreads of Arabian and Malay cuisine, including a whole roasted lamb resting on a bed of briyani rice. Stomach groaning, we then make our way back to Bedok to Nenek’s for round two.
Nenek is 82, but still whips up a mean Serondeng and her home made ketupat is the real deal. Fatimah has picked up all the culinary skills from Nenek and the meal they have waiting for us has been a week in the making: Apart from all the kuih-kuih, there’s Rendang, Masak Kicap, Sambal Goreng, Sambal Tumis, and of course Lontong. Fatimah tolds me that she slept about four hours in the last 48 preparing the food for Hari Raya.
I must have put about about 5 pounds in the last week, but I comfort myself that it’s only once in a while that this happens. Selamat Hari Raya!