Every year, during the Muslim month of Ramadan, the streets along Geylang are transformed into a bustling, brightly-coloured bazaar where people from all walks of life are attracted to the vendors selling anything and everything from great-tasting Muslim food to lush carpets and fine silks and furniture.
Hari Raya Bazaar
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Hari Raya is an exciting time, for it marks the end of the month of Ramadan, when our Muslim friends fast in order to cleanse their soul of harmful impurities and learn to do good. After a month of going hungry and thirsty so that they can understand what the poor and starving masses are going through all around the world, they mark the end with a celebration and feast. That Hari Raya can also be literally translated into 'Day of Celebration' is a fact highly in line with the holiday.
During this period of time, visiting the bazaar observing the festive season in Geylang is highly recommended. During these events, there is much to see, eat and experience. For one, look out for sumptuous Hari Raya dishes, the famed Ramli burgers and the specialty muslim 'kuehs'. Whilst munching on your food, stroll through the multitude of make-shift stores selling everything from cloth (to spruce up your house) to specialty custom-made flower arrangements.
Moreover, the atmosphere of the events are of jubiliance. There is a cheery feel to the place as Muslims end their fast for the day and coming down to the bazaar gives them a chance to stretch their toes as well as fill up their stomachs. Moreover, there is a general 'bro feel' among the crowds for everyone has gone through the same ordeal throughout the day. Its really a relief that its evening again!
I would normally recommend visits during evening hours as this is the time where the bazaar is at its noisiest and most active. The first hand experience and subsequent takeaways is indeed eye opening.
What an amazing sight. Geylang and Joo Chiat are converted into a massive night time market that goes on for the whole of Ramadan. What intrigues me is the composition of the stalls. Obviously, there are stalls selling clothes and textiles and fabrics and so on, but by and large, in a fasting month, most sell food!
Despite any slight cynicism I might show in some of my reviews, it remains a truism that Singapore is a wonderful place to be in when it comes to the celebration of festivals. From colourful street parades to religious processions and street light-ups, Singapore comes alive.
Any one of the celebrations associated with the main ethnic groups, plus Christmas, provide the tourist (and the local) with the anticipation that there is always something to look forward to throughout the year.
During Ramadan the predominantly Malay district of Geylang Serai is transformed into a world of colourful stalls, sounds, lights and colour. The bazaars spring up all over the place. Crowds throng the streets and markets to buy everything from fabrics to food.
Hari Raya Puasa is the festival which marks the end of Ramadan, which lasts one month and during which Muslims must fast. More importantly, families come together, seek for forgiveness for anything that may have offended, and look forward to the future.
I admire the Malays. How can they walk buy, even buy all that food, and not even take a quick bite whilst waiting for Buka Puasa? That of course, misses the point. This is a religious festival at heart. The colour and excesses perhaps are just an expression of the significance it has n the lives of believers.
The Hari Raya Bazaar is a must-go event, if not for the shopping, go there for the experience. The bazaar usually opens by the first day of the fasting month and it goes on till the eve of Hari Raya Puasa. IMHO, best time to go is during the mid month onwards and after sundown.
There's plenty of food, plenty of merchandise. There are plenty of traditional dresses (both male and female) for you to choose from. The atmosphere has always been festive though a well-performing economy seems to drive the festive atmosphere even higher.
Having said that, I remember the bazaars during the years when our economy was booming. It was heady to say the least. Toxicating even. Back then, when the old Geylang Serai was in existence, I'd dare say the atmosphere was the best and the nostalgic amongst us would agree, I'd dare say.
Hari Raya Bazaar is a yearly event which my family and I attend regularly. After finally converting into a regular-bie there, I was no longer taken aback by the booming cacophony of sounds that used to overwhelm my senses the first time I placed a foot at these bazaar grounds. Huge speakers blasted tracks that uplifts the mood of festivity. There were men yelling over loudhailers whilst some were even relying on authentic microphones. They began babbling numerical language about percentages and discounts in the bid to lure more customers. All these are conducted without battering an eye, right across one another. I noticed that they seem to crank the volume of their gadgets up per hour. It remains a wonder how anyone is able to comprehend anything they're advertising amidst this din!
I adore the wide array of traditional attires sold there. The prices are negotiable too making it all the more supremely appealing. Despite the verbal competition between amiable stall owners, Hari Raya Bazaar is indeed the greatest avenue for anything between traditionalism and modernism. Traditional items with a modern twist. They're all there, affordably.
As far back as I could remember, every year during the Muslim fasting month, my family and I would frequent the Bazaar in Geylang, for new outfits, treats, and household items. The variety is impressive, though not comparable to the one in KL. It's actually sort of like a tradition for us already.
It's best to go to the Bazaar at night, where the festive mode is more felt. Towards the end of the fasting month, crowds will become bigger, items cheaper, and the whole atmosphere is really quite exhilarating.
It does get tiring after a few hours walking around, what with all the people and activities going about. I would usually get cranky by then, and would want to go back home.
But as (some of) the Malays say, "it's not Raya if you don't go to Geylang".
Since it is only held once a year, I will always make it a point to visit this bazaar at night during the fasting month at least once. The variety of food there is just amazing. The kebabs, the kuehs, the dendeng ( a slice dried meat that has a similar shape to Bak kwa but the halal version), traditional malay food like nasi lemak and mee goreng, desserts such as Turkish ice cream and much more. Basically it is a food heaven.
Aside from food, the bazaar also has beautiful traditional and modern malay ‘baju kurungs’ on sale, carpets, vases, flowers, fairy lights and things that the Malays are keen to buy in preparation for Hari Raya. Sometimes, there are also performances by well-known Malay singers and entertainers in order to hype up the bazaar. The whole place will be blasting with Hari Raya songs and people will sing along to them while shopping.
It is truly a unique cultural experience and it is something that has been there for decades. I love Hari Raya bazaar and will continue to do so as long as I live.
On some years, my friends and I would try to revel in the spirit of a festival for the experience. We would go to Little India during Deepavali and Geylang Serai during Hari Raya, just for the heck of it.
Despite Hari Raya being a malay festival, I had the illogical notion that there would be quite a few Chinese there to enjoy the festivities as well. Turns out I was wrong about that. During my hour plus tour of the bazaar, I saw about 5 Chinese the whole time I was there. Not that I'm complaining, that's just an observation. I just thought people would have been more interested in culture than this.
Anyway, the place was crowded and bustling, even though nothing stands out in particular. It really is just a bigger version of the pasar malams we see every other day.. complete with my friend selling motorbikes there. Yup, apparently, selling automobiles is becoming commonplace in the bigger pasar malams as well. Indeed, my friend says that sales have been brisk since many of our malay brothers are tempted to purchase new rides for the new year!
Every year, without fail, I'll fly down to Hari Raya Bazaar for the food rather than the shopping. Ranging from other than malay food, there's kebabs, takoyaki, bbq wings, sweetened thin beef jerkies (den deng), Ramli burgers, cotton candies, fruits, crackers, snacks, nasi briyani and many many more.
There's a variety of food cultures that can be found in the Hari Raya Bazaar alone. Compared to any other normal bazaars that was some times held at HDB areas all year round, not much food is being offered. If you are truly a food lover and don't mind grazing down the oily fats, then the Hari Raya Bazaar is just for you.
Other than food,there's of course household decorations, footwear, apparels, pants, ethnic costumes, kitchen utensils and etc. It's not a wasted trip when you are hungering a different fresh taste of food for your taste buds.
When I was younger, I used to go to the Hari Raya Bazaar every year to revel in the festiveness of the season. Now, the only time I would go anywhere near Geylang during the Hari Raya Bazaar is to bring around my friends who are visiting the country. Honestly, everything looks the same after a while. There are a half a dozen carpet stalls, a dozen Ramly burger stalls and two dozen Hari Raya clothing stalls...you get my drift.
Of course, it is an influencing factor that bazaars are now a year-long thing that pops up in random locations across the island from time to time, so the Hari Raya Bazaar is not quite so special anymore. It is quite sad that it has lost its magic for me. Perhaps in the future, there may be less repetitive stalls that will entice me to make my way down to Geylang again.
I tend to overeat. Even when it is not a festival I celebrate. But hey, im being happy for them okay!
The highlight of these bazaars for me, is the food. What else but the delicious, lip smacking, greasy and cheap grub, with a homely taste rarely found in mass produced goods.
This year's bazaar was a hit for me, I literally went to check out every single food stall and eyed their offerings. I'm thrilled, as not often can I find so many Malay snack stalls at one go. And then, being the crazy me, I visited every stall selling the kuih dadar and bought them home to try every one.
Enough of my antics. Besides food, they do sell other things like decorations and such for use during the hari raya. It is indeed a time of joy and happiness for them.
I can't wait for the next bazaar!