Which bazaar is this again?
JULY 30 — The local Ramadan bazaar in my hometown Kuching is especially familiar to me. Every year it’s usually the same faces selling the same delicacies, with the odd changes from year to year. And growing up I visited the bazaar in Satok every year since before I understood what a bazaar is.
At one point, the relatively unchanging set-up started to take a little bit away from the entire experience. Over time the same old atmosphere with the same sights and stalls and dishes gets boring. So when I had my first Ramadan away from home, exploring an entirely new bazaar was especially delightful.
It was eight years ago in Labuan. Settling in after my first few months in Labuan, I looked forward to the local Ramadan bazaar. In truth I longed for home comforts in addition to the thrill of discovering the unknown, and I imagined that finding dishes I would at home would go some way in providing those comforts.
The Labuan bazaar was completely different from what I was used to in Kuching. There I found a number of dishes cooked beyond my culinary experience — admittedly one limited to instant noodles at that point. Despite the likes of seri muka and fried popiah reminding me what iftar at home feels like, there were still dishes missing that I took for granted at home; no vadai or ikan terubok for example.
Nonetheless it was still a lot of fun figuring out what’s good and what’s not. The first time I went was the longest, exploring how big it was (not) and how the stalls were laid out. My first few visits were spent trying a myriad of new things, and after that trying the same things sold by a number of different sellers. After a couple of weeks I had a very good sense of what dishes I liked and from whom I liked them.
A year later I was in Bangi, the bazaar was different and the selection of food wider. It was a whole new adventure with the same theme: finding home comforts away from home. The Bangi experience took me further beyond; for instance, I discovered nasi kerabu, which I will always love (always without budu though). I also found some other new dishes that my tastebuds soon grew addicted to.
As I did in Labuan, I excitedly explored what foods were available and who sells them, later figuring out what’s best from whom and where their stalls were located. And with that knowledge, subsequent trips were shorter; often I had clear ideas of what I wanted before I arrived, sometimes praying hard when my classes finished late that my favourite nasi kerabu stall was not out of smoked beef yet.
And every year I would repeat the cycle, sometimes venturing to another bazaar unknown to me. A little part of me revelled in recreating to some extent a Ramadan experience like I might have at home. But eventually the bazaars felt the same to me.
Figuring out the best sellers who share my vision of the ideal nasi kerabu is only so much fun — that game gets old. With passing years, the novelty of finding food not found in Kuching wore off, and these days they only punctuate the realisation that I’m not home. Despite some varying choices, different bazaars are not much different to me anymore. The fact that they’re not the bazaar I grew up grew in becomes louder with every visit.
These days I miss that old boring but familiar Ramadan bazaar in Kuching. As unchangingly tedious as it may have felt some years ago, lately I realised that eventually all bazaars are just different manifestations of the same thing. Exploring the similar differences was not fun enough to substitute for being home anymore.
Eventually I learned the lesson that a big part of Ramadan fun is being with family, not the food, nor the bazaar. In that city with the boring, familiar bazaar, at least I have family. And family never gets old.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.