Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ramadhan Karim!

Tomorrow is the first day of the fasting month for Muslims in Malaysia. In other parts of the world, some would have started today already or even the day after. This is all because of the elusive moon; with the air pollutants these days, it is quite likely that with the naked eye, one could mistake a low orbiting satellite for the much anticipated sliver of the moon.

Ramadhan marks the month where Muslims are expected to abstain from food and drink and sex from dawn to sunset. Luckily for us in the equator, the duration of the day is pretty the same year round and takes roughly 13.5 hours.  It pays to be in the Antarctica for this Ramadhan season rather than Alaska, let me tell you. For those in the northern hemisphere, Ramadhan falls during the peak of summer this year; eighteen hours of daylight is no walk in the park to go without water and sustenance, not to mention the scorching heat. It is a good thing that the Islamic calendar is a lunar one; at least you can experience fasting during spring, summer, fall and winter. Imagine if Ramadhan is stuck in summer only ... oh wait. It would be kind of like the Aussies and Kiwis knowing nothing but summery Christmas, yeah?

Nonetheless, we are expected to suck it up and demonstrate the strength of our faith. I started fasting when I was seven in Primary One, though with some cheating ("What are you doing in the bathroom?" "Just peeing," and I swallowed the deliciously cold tap water in a hurry.). Unlike the parents of most my peers, mine did not believe in monetary reward for adhering to the edicts of our faith, so there were no dollar a day for complete fast. 

Oh well. Bribery is bad, right?

There was a cartoon by Lat that I remembered fondly about fasting. Sadly, I couldn't source it, but it portrayed Epit, one of his Kampung Boy characters, who was not fasting because he was still a small child. As such, he was not allowed to join the breaking of the fast meal and had to wait below the house (traditional Malay houses were built on stilts) for charity from his siblings, commonly in the form of a banana smuggled through the window.

Before I attended boarding school in my secondary years, I never thought that boys would cheat during the fasting month. I have always thought of how lucky the males are to not menstruate and having to replace the missed days of fasting. During the tarawih prayer one evening, the prayer leader, who was an Islamic Studies teacher and warden at the male dormitory, made a comment about scenting instant noodle cooking in the boys' corridor. Unlike Epit, these big boys could partake the breaking of fast meal in the cafeteria, pretending virtuousness of a complete day of fasting.

The fasting month also marks the time when the evening traffic will be snarled to road rage-inciting insanity, thanks to food markets, called pasar Ramadhan, catering specifically for the breaking of fast meal.

Stolen from http://lhakim-suarahati.blogspot.com/2012/08/kaut-untung-atas-angin-pada-bulan.html
These markets usually starts operating at about 3 pm and are usually located around high traffic concentration areas. They would offer all kind of delicacies, ranging from appetisers to main course to desserts, and a plethora of cold drinks that only makes its appearance during the Ramadhan. As much as these markets cause the traffic to seize, its presence is highly looked forward to by foodies to source for their evening meal. I am rather meh about them; there had been many instances that I would walk home from the pasar Ramadhan empty-handed, not having seen anything that I would actually pay money to consume. I think this is the bane of cooking at home. You would look at something and think:

"I could make that thing myself, and for that price, I could make enough for ten people to eat."

...or ...

"So obvious that they cheated with the coconut ... looks like leftover after the coconut milk has been extracted ..."

... or ...

"Is that supposed to be appetising? That chicken looked like it's been recycled from yesterday's dinner service."

... and so on.

It is ironic that the month for people to rein in their base desires and train their bodies for self control is also the month where people abuse their body with food and drink. Some people seem to think that just because they skipped lunch and second breakfast and tea, they can mentekedarah (eat everything in sight) when dusk arrive. Malaccans use the word mencekik to describe this, which literally means to strangle or eat until you can't breathe anymore.

So you have people over eating, or worse, wasting food. The pasar Ramadhan offers one avenue for waste; when hungry people go food shopping, they tend to over estimate how much they can eat and end up buying too much. The other one are the buffet offers, that range from a modest RM 26.90++ per pax to ridiculous RM 139.90++ and even more at high end hotels. If you had to fork out that much to eat at the buffet, won't you over stuff yourself just to justify the amount that you've paid?

However, I do miss the McDonald's Ramadhan buffet. Once upon a time, the stand along McDonalds (not the ones in shopping malls) would offer Ramadhan buffets; the more people you bring along, the cheaper it was. I think this would have been the few times that McDonalds may not make the kind of return they usually expect; people who come to eat at this buffet tend to be serious about putting away their food.

The McDonalds buffet is the only one that I have ever gone to that you don't really see people wasting food. It was probably because the time for you to get the food is limited (from 7 pm to 8.30 pm only) and you have to queue at the counter to order before you can get your food. So you are not going past an array of food from which you fill your plate (which would cause the primitive part of your brain to maniacally pile food on your plate) and you are limited by the number of stuff you can put on your plastic brown tray.

I've been to it twice, once with my Assunta girlfriends and another time with my uni mates. The trick to making the most of this buffet is drinking nothing but hot tea, sans sugar and creamer. Cold drinks will make you drink too much and you won't have much space to stuff your gullet. We were evil enough to bring large bags to smuggle extras home to the gang in the house. One of the guys from uni actually put two quarter pounder patties together into one gigantic burger, smushed it to a more manageable thickness and ate the whole thing. On top of the Big Mac, fries and assorted other stuff that went down his throat.

Good times.

The thing is, Ramadhan is about reminding you about the good things that you do have. The blessing of water when you are thirsty, the food when you are hungry. Around the world, millions of people go to bed hungry on a daily basis. Many die from malnutrition and even starvation. It is ironic that as the waistline of the world kept growing, there are still sections of the population who still do not have enough to eat. We are supposed to reflect on what it is like to be without, and to be more charitable to those who are in need.

I hope to do better this Ramadhan, to subdue my base instincts and cultivate better habits (I'm not holding my breath, though). This is a jihad, a struggle, to become better, and Allah in His Infinite Kindness, rewards us for doing something that we should be doing for ourselves. Done properly, fasting can help you regulate your metabolism and lose some inches (although how long the inches remain lost vary with your effort). One tends to sleep earlier to wake up for sahur (the morning meal), which can correct any previous sleep deprivation. One tends to be more mindful of one's speech, avoiding inane chatter and cursing, which would be good for developing a more pleasant personality.

All in all, I am looking forward to enjoying myself this Ramadhan! I hope it will be a great one for you too!


pure leaps and spirals said...

AWESOME post! captured the stuggle beautifully and poking good fun at our eating quirks!

wished u coulda joined us tonite... the masses i invited dwindled to 3 and we scrapped pertiwi for another day..


Anonymous said...

Cam across your blog by chance. Love your writing. Keep up the good work.


Snuze said...

Thanks, Frizkybrat! It was basically a rant about the way Ramadhan is abused, hehehe.

Thank you for the visit and the comment, Ling. Hope to see you again!