No, I'm not talking about a red light district. I'm talking about the Ramadan Bazaar in Bangsar.
I'm a bit behind the times with this post, seeing that Ramadan started last week. Especially in comparison to a digital camera-toting fellow KL blogger; this woman with a mission has already hit 5 or 6 Ramadan hotspots in KL to snap (and load up on? it's not clear if she's scarfing any of it or not) the luscious treats that are on offer this time of year. What can I say -- we're low-tech, and developing, sorting, and scanning slides takes time. Worth the wait? Judge for yourself.
On Sunday we headed over to Bangsar for our usual afternoon stock-up-on-basics-for-the-week foray, and were surprised to find stalls selling buka puasa (breaking the fast) goodies as early as 3:30pm. After a casual glance up the street we discarded any thought of walking the air-conditioned aisles of a sterile grocery store in favor of cruising the stalls on the hot pavement. Our modus operandi: wander the street once, twice, three times if necessary (stalls lined both sides), decide what looked best, and take it home for dinner. But first, some refreshment, in the form of iced chrysanthemum tea (top picture, middle container) and
what I believe the vendor called a cheras a few kuih cara berlauk (above), little cakes with a savory filling of curried jicama. Delightful.
Plenty of murtabak (griddle-fried dough stuffed -- usually -- with chicken, beef, lamb, or sardines) on offer, but our attention was drawn to this stall by the vendor's remarkable resemblance to the lad behind him toting tacos (tacos?).
Before it's cooked up, murtabak filling is surprisingly runny, so much so that it's poured from a pitcher onto the waiting dough. The griddlehand must then quickly -- and deftly -- fold up the dough to enclose the almost-leaking filling in a square pastry.
A good murtabak will be greasy (it's inevitable) but crispy with a browned exterior and not so much filling that one can't taste the dough. These beef lovelies, right off the griddle, were lightly crisped and fragrant with cumin and other spices.
We were tempted by many stalls selling barbecued fish and squid, some of which had bathed their product in sambal and wrapped it in banana leaves before tossing them on the griddle or barby.
But we passed over these seafood options in favor of a stall run by 3 guys eager to ham it up for the camera -- oh, and they were offering a unique and enticing piscene product.
Their sign introduced their ikan terubuk bakar (grilled tilapia fish) as a Sarawak specialty and indeed, there were no other vendors at the bazaar offering anything even remotely similar.
Before finding their home over the coals, the fish are doused with a marinade or rub that I'm guessing includes turmeric, then secured to a piece of split bamboo that is threaded in through their gills and out through their mouths.
The beautiful golden color of the fish, with plenty of char, and the fragrant smoke rising from this grill dictated that one of these babies find it's way into our shopping bag. Entree taken care of.
Further up the street we found three girls selling popiah (soft spring rolls usually filled with grated and steamed jicama, among other things). These looked especially good, with freshly made, substantial wrappers that wouldn't be likely to tear or leak.
To the question, "You like it spicy?" we nodded affirmative, and our popiah were slathered with a sweet and sticky, chili-laden sauce, then sprinkled with fried shallots, before being wrappd up to take away.
By our third and final pass up the street the queue at this stall had lengthened considerably, and I overheard one waiting customer tell another that these popiah had been mentioned in a Ramadan bazaar update in one of the local papers. The popiah were indeed lovely, not mushy or too wet -- even after we had carted them home and let them sit for a while -- and the skins had a pleasingly assertive wheaty taste.
One treat we didn't partake of at this bazaar was the delectable looking fried noodles offered at a stall near to and across the street from the mosque. We passed it a few times, eyeing the griddle (and snapping a few photos), but ultimately decided that we had already bought more than we could eat at home that night. Here the noodles are getting started with sizzle of garlic and chilies and maybe some dried shrimp ...?
After the noodles had been frying for a bit, the vendor stirred in a pile of cubed tofu.
By the time of our final look-see he had finished up this batch of wide rice noodles, as well as another of thin wheat noodles. Both were extremely tempting and I'm betting we'll be back next weekend to give them a try.
Barbecued chicken is a common sight at Ramadan bazaars; this stall was doing a brisk business. Check out the pile of birds ready-to-sell behind this grillmaster.
Fish was on the menu that night so we passed on the chicken, but I've a mind to pick some up for dinner later this week. Couldn't ignore this vendor selling rotisserie chicken, however, especially when we watched him cleaver up someone else's order and noted the abundant juices leaking onto the chopping block.
Half of one of these birds, tucked into the fridge after we got home, made me a couple of tasty lunches this week. Lots of bird, lots of smoke, not much else -- done to perfection on the outside and remarkably juicy within. Another stall I hope to revisit before Ramadan's done.
We couldn't head back to the car without stopping for a couple of otak-otak (fish paste wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled).
These nubbins were nothing like the fluffy fish "mousse"-style otak-otak we enjoyed a month or so ago at the Nyonya restaurant Padi Prada, but more of a toothsome fish "sausage", 2-bite sized chunks of spicy, chewy, fish paste. Nonetheless, delightful in their own right.
We drove home -- and, that night, dined on some very tasty treats -- feeling depressed as all get out. After all, Ramadan lasts only 30 days; we get to sample these foods, swoon over the flavors, but then are forced to wait another year for the opportunity to do so again. How cruel is that?