Fasting and feasting
Published/Last edited or updated: 29th September, 2017
The holy month of Ramadan may not seem like the most obvious time to enjoy traditional Malay food but every evening, once the daylight hours of abstinence and spiritual reflection are over, Penang’s Muslims gather at Ramadan bazaars across the island to break the end of the day’s fast (Iftar or “buka puasa” in Malay) and spend quality time with family and friends.
Penang’s Muslim community is particularly visible at this very special time of year, and the bazaars are a great chance to experience their warmth and hospitality. The bazaars don’t only draw Malay and Indian Muslims—nothing brings Malaysians together more than food—you’ll see a cross section of Penang’s community, with Chinese locals and tourists eager to sample the fare on offer and join in the welcoming atmosphere too.
Penang’s traditional Malay food is perhaps not quite as ubiquitous as Chinese and Indian, but you will quickly discover that it is every bit as delicious with wafting smells to tempt and tantalise. You’ll find one of the most popular bazaars smack in the middle of Little India on Lebuh Queen with stalls piled high with all manner of Malay and Indian tastes and treats, many quickly depleted when the day’s fast ends.
Begin your Ramadan street feast with some deep-fried Indian snacks or samosas. Alternatively, snack on some Malay bites, including pulut panggang, a roll of glutinous rice stuffed with fish, then wrapped in a banana leaf and barbecued, or marinated grilled fish known as ikan bakar, or perhaps murtabak, a delicious eggy pancake stuffed with minced meat and onions and served with a spicy sauce.
If you need something a bit more substantial, try ayam percik (grilled chicken with a sweet and spicy garlic, chilli, ginger and coconut sauce), traditional Penang nasi kandar, consisting of rice and curries prepared by the town’s Indian Muslim population, or even a rendang curry with ketupat (glutinous rice boiled in a woven palm leaf).
For a more unusual dish, look out for the stall selling roti jala (“net bread”), made using a special perforated ladle which drizzles streams of batter onto a hot pan. The bread is folded and eaten with curried dishes, which you can pick up from big vats on the next-door stall.
To follow up your main course, there are numerous stalls selling all manner of different sweet treats known as kuih. Choose from onde onde glutinous rice balls, filled with sticky palm sugar syrup and coated in grated coconut, or kuih bingka, a cake baked from mashed sweet potato and flour, flavoured with vanilla and coconut milk. You may like to try kuih Bugis, which consists of ground rice flour and tapioca filled with grated coconut and sugar, all wrapped in a banana leaf and then grilled.
If that still hasn’t satisfied your sweet tooth, a glass of freshly squeezed cane sugar juice and a colourfully layered steamed riceflour cake flavoured with coconut and sugar, known as kuih lapis, will definitely do the job.
The bazaars can get very crowed around sunset, and if you’re not Muslim, its a polite gesture to wait until those fasting have eaten before tucking in.
Why not combine a sunset visit to the Lebuh Queen bazaar with a walk down the nearby “street of harmony” to experience more of Penang’s varied cultures, finishing up at Georgetown’s most impressive mosque, the Masjid Kapitan Keling.
Address: Across Penang
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Penang