Ramadhan is known to be the month of fasting for muslims. We first experienced Ramadhan in Sabah (Borneo), Malaysia. To our big surprise the days don’t seem to be so much about fasting but more about eating! Let me tell you why it’s great to travel during Ramadhan, at least in Malaysia.
Malaysia is a multicultural country: mainly people from Malaysia, China and India contribute to its great variety of culture and food. Malaysia is a muslim country but beside mosques there are also many chinese, japanese, buddhist and hindu temples as well as old churches. People in Malaysia love to eat and to talk about food! Eating unites the country and its cultures. There are food courts, restaurants and street food everywhere. At every hour of the day (or night) you can eat great food somewhere!
At the time we traveled the Malaysian part of Borneo it was Ramadhan. We read in advance that most restaurants would be closed during the day. Because it is offensive to eat or smoke in front of people who are fasting the few open food places would cover their windows during the day. We expected it to be a quiet month. We read about Ramadhan bazaars but we only expected the great food at the end of fasting when Aidilfitri is celebrated.
Here is what we experienced in Sabah, Malaysia. I don’t know how Ramadhan is celebrated in other regions or countries – if you know more about it, you are welcome to leave a comment!
During the day many stores were closed but because Malaysia is so multicultural still many shops and restaurants were open. We even saw many muslim women (probably also men – but it’s not obvious) working in restaurants, preparing and serving food – what we kind of felt sorry for. It’s not nice to be surrounded by food the whole day when you are fasting. Anyway in the afternoon and early evening the city of Kota Kinabalu turned into one big Ramadhan Bazaar! At 4 o’clock in the afternoon the city was full of blue pavillons with people preparing food. Between 5 and 7pm everyone was buying delicious food and drinks there – everything was packed into plastic cups and bags to take-away. Sunset was at 6:26pm in KK. No one ate before that time but everybody got seriously prepared. Some restaurants were advertising their Ramadhan buffet – for about 3,50€ you could help yourself at the all-you-can-eat buffet. The restaurant was full of people, nearly all tables were full but no one was eating. The plates full of food were on the tables, everybody was waiting and staring at the smartphone to be 6:26pm. A funny picture!
I stood out to me that the month of fasting was not about not having food. Food seemed to become much more important while fasting. The preparations of the food took hours and every evening felt like a celebration with loads of food and drinks (non-alcoholic, of course). The variety of food was amazing. The local food on the Bazaar was freshly made, tasty and cheap. It felt like a treasure hunt to walk through the Bazaar and to buy a little bit of this and of that and to walk home with bags full of yummi food – like everybody else. What I like most about Islam here is that it does not exclude people but include them. You are very welcome on the Bazaar and people love when you try their food. At the end of the Bazaar (at 7:30pm everything is finished) they give away food for free or for less money. They don’t care that you were not fasting during the day. They love to celebrate.