Ramadan bazaars are a cacophony of scents and colours. From meat and fish grilled over charcoal and the ubiquitous Roti John to the exotic shades of jelly desserts and those unique drinks that only seem to make an appearance during the fasting month.
It’s incredibly easy to succumb to all the delicious food but if you’ve been on the clean and healthy eating path all year, this time of year (as with every festive season) is when you are most likely to stray.
But, all is not lost and you don’t have to deprive yourself, because a stroll through a typical bazaar does reveal some healthier options. Eating healthy also entails consuming in moderation, staying away from anything deep-fried and allowing yourself something sweet at the end is fine… but just the one!
Five Ramadan bazaar dishes you can eat without guilt (less of it anyway!)
1. Assam Laksa (approx. 300 – 400 calories per bowl)
There are several types of laksa made with different soups most of which are coconut milk-based. The healthier option is the assam variety more commonly known as Penang Laksa, which has a soup base of tamarind and mackerel - a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Rice noodles garnished with cucumber, pineapple, torch ginger (bunga kantan), chilli and mint complete the dish.
2. Popiah (one roll – approx. 180 calories)
The deep-fried version of what are essentially spring rolls is what most people like to eat. Try the ‘wet’ version, which is a thin flour wrapper filled with braised jicama (Mexican turnip), beansprouts, omelette, bean curd and Chinese sausage. If you don’t add meat and ensure lard has not been used, this is a great vegetarian dish.
3. Ayam Percik (one serving of chicken approx. 500 calories)
One of the first things you will notice at a Ramadan bazaar is the rich grilled aroma of Ayam Percik. This typical Malay dish sees chicken marinated in coconut milk, ginger, turmeric, shallots, garlic and chilli. The calorie count is slightly high but if you eat it with a salad and replace the usual white rice with the brown / red variety or quinoa, it really isn’t so bad!
4. Nasi Kerabu (one serving of rice, fish and raw vegetables at approx. 500 calories)
Originating in the northern state of Kelantan, the ‘kerabu’ in Nasi Kerabu refers to Thai-style salads that are popular in the region. A typical combination comprises an herb (torch ginger, turmeric leaf, Vietnamese coriander) salad, fish crackers, sambal, stuffed green chilli and either fish or chicken with blue rice courtesy of the butterfly pea flower.
5. Putu Piring (approx.115 calories per piece)
All savoury and nothing sweet will make you crave it even more and lead to overindulging. The variety of desserts at a bazaar is the stuff of sugar dreams and loaded with coconut milk and glutinous rice. A good choice is Putu Piring, which is a small steamed cake made from rice flour (gluten-free), filled with palm sugar and served with freshly grated coconut. Having one (or two if you’ve been good that day) will finish off your meal nicely.