All the specialties of the season are on display: fancy sweets, colorful drinks, pan-fried stingrays. The market is packed for hours before sunset; not even swine flu can keep them away. Several stalls sell the triumvirate of fast-breaking drinks : Air kelapa, sugarcane juice, and soy milk. Of the three, our household prefers the fresh-pressed sugarcane, dark dark green with a grassy flavor to the sweetness.
Malaysian sweets – kuih – are almost all made from the same few ingredients, but little differences in preparation and presentation result in dozens of variations and permutations on the theme. The packaging is amazing – leaves of banana, pandan, coconut and others are cleaned, cut and wrapped into distinctive shapes, often fastened with a small pin made of bamboo or lidi. Some of our favorites are tapai nasi, bongkol, tako jagung, celorot, koci, and kuih sampan (I think).
For many of the kuih, the wrapping is part of the recipe. The tako jagung (santan over agar-agar with corn in the middle) is wrapped in a pandan box, which gives flavor and aroma as you spoon it out. The bongkol is wrapped in a banana leaf that is smoked first, given a smoky flavor to the creamy santan, sago flour and gula apong mixture inside. The celorot is wrapped in a coconut leaflet in such a way that you can press the base and it will squeeze out the top – like a push-up ice-cream.
It is quite a change from my Michigan Ramadans where I survived on bread, zaatar, labne, olives and 5-litre bottles of olive oil – all but unavailable here. But perhaps diet is best suited to climate and this is how we do it at 1 Degree North Latitude.