Ramadan: A Month of Good Deeds and Good Food
This Spring will be extra special because this year, Ramadan begins in April! Muslims all over the world will observe the Holy month of Ramadan, where one fasts from sun up to sun down and focuses on worship and togetherness. It’s important to us at Tuk Tuk Box to acknowledge every part of Southeast Asian identity and culture so we’re highlighting this sacred holiday for our Southeast Asian Muslim brothers and sisters.
Did you know that Southeast Asia holds the world’s highest concentration of Muslims? It’s true! Indonesia is home to 231 million Muslims -- nearly 13% of the global Muslim population. Malaysia and Brunei are also Muslim majority nations and there are even pockets of Muslim subgroups in the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore. Despite these statistics, one would be hardpressed in finding adequate representation of Southeast Asian Muslims in the media; Islam is usually delegated to the Middle East only and Buddhism to East and Southeast Asia.
Southeast Asian Muslim erasure even within the Asian community further drives divide and misunderstanding. To combat this, it is essential for us to recognize Islam’s influence on this region’s architecture, politics, textiles, traditions, celebrations, and of course, the amazing food! From the geometric patterns found in batik to the halal (deemed lawful to eat by Islamic standards) food stalls, Islam has indelibly left its mark on Southeast Asia.
Sultan Mosque (Masjid Sultan) in Singapore
Fasting Around The World
While Ramadan is characterized by the act of abstaining from food, water, certain physical needs, smoking, and quarreling. Muslims globally sync their schedules around fasting and worship. It is the 9th month on the Islamic calendar and this year, Muslims in New Zealand can expect to fast for roughly 11 hours, in Washington D.C. approximately 14-15 hours, in Indonesia for about 13 hours, and in the UK sometimes up to 18 hours. Exact dates for Ramadan change every year (moving up 1 month), which means Muslims are able to experience it in a different season, with varying fast times to ensure fairness and equality amongst the differing regions. The act of fasting itself is to feel closer to their Creator and to instill compassion for the impoverished by experiencing a fraction of their plight. It is also a time to seek out every opportunity to do a good deed, and feeding the underserved is considered to be one of the most humbling experiences. Mosques all around the world often host iftars, or breaking the fast meals, throughout Ramadan and provide the meals for free.
Takjilan [Food for Breaking the Fast]
Of course, the star of the day is the meal that breaks the fast called, Iftar. “Every iftar feels like you’re about to have the best dinner of your life,” Naz Majidah, our Admin Assistant jokes.
The anticipation is palpable and all is quiet once the adzan, or call to prayer, rings out from local mosques or cell phone apps, signifying Maghrib (4th mandatory prayer, which also signifies the end of the fast) has come and it is time to eat!
It is customary to break the fast with something sweet; ingesting something sweet after a full day of fasting will help bring blood sugar levels back up. Traditionally, korma (date, sacred fruit in Islam) is eaten but the go-to dessert in Indonesia is kolak. Kolak is a coconut milk-based soup sweetened with palm sugar, flavored with pandan leaves, and features cooked yam and plantains. It can be served warm or cold but many prefer eating it cold to cool themselves off from the blaring heat.
Other takjil, foods to break fast with, include Es buah, Es Cendol, Es Kelapa Muda, Es Cincau, and Es Teler.
Es buah, es campur, es teler
After the Maghrib prayer, everyone beelines it to the gorengan, the fried stuff!
Pisang goreng [fried banana], cilok, fried tofu, risoles
Malaysians prefer to break their fast with a warm sweet and savory rice porridge called bubur lambuk. The iftar consists of typical food one has for dinner and for Southeast Asians that means rice!
Eid ul Fitr - Post Ramadan Celebration
Just as the routine of spending nights in prayer and fasting throughout the day was starting to get easier, the month draws to a close, and Eid ul Fitr, Hari Raya or Lebaran as it’s called in Indonesia and Malaysia, is here, at last, the celebration that marks the completion of Ramadan.
The sound of takbir fills homes from the evening before as preparations are made for the 2-3 day-long feast. Everyone is wearing their finest clothes as they make their way to the mosque.
Desserts include kue nastar, kastengels, kue lapis, tape, klepon.
For the Cham Muslims in Vietnam, Eid is a day to ask forgiveness, honor their ancestors and even get married! Because it is such a special and long-awaited time of the year, this has been a popular time to hold weddings. Khmer Muslims in Cambodia, a minority population who has faced persecution and genocide, observing Ramadan and celebrating Eid is something they’ll never take for granted.
Wedding event during pandemic in Indonesia
A Cham wedding in Vietnam
Open houses, open hearts
More than just about food, for Muslim families Ramadan is about focusing on their Creator, and coming together to replenish and nurture their bodies, their faith, and their community. “It’s an Islamic holiday whose ancient wisdom is still so achingly relevant. It is a time of detox and recentering. The specific tasks we’re required to perform forces us to see each other’s humanity and reckon with our own; it’s about being able to see how this translates across cultures and suspends class and status,” Naz offers. “For those of us especially in the diaspora, it is a chance to reconnect with our faith, recall our cultural and family traditions and share it with the community.”
With that message in mind, we’d like to wish our Southeast Asian Muslim brothers and sister a Happy Ramadan full of peace, clarity, connectedness, and of course- all the yummy food!