No sad lobster rolls or gimmicky drinks that scream diabetes for us – just unpretentious bazaar food at Geylang Serai
Oh boy, how much the Geylang Serai Bazaar has changed over the years. From a surplus of hipster food to outrage from traditionalists, it’s been quite a roller coaster ride. This year, the organisers are bringing it to the table with an authentic experience. For starters, 60% of the stalls will be serving up delish traditional Malay and Indian Muslim treats. Plus, all food vendors are halal-certified, Muslim-owned or fulfil a halal criteria set by consultants. Will it be a success this year?
One thing’s for sure, we’ll always keep going back ‘cos one – it evokes nostalgia, two – we won’t say no to traditional festival food (walk straight past any food in a bucket). Our fellow Honeycombers, Nabila Amin and Hylman Suwandi, share just how much the Geylang Serai Bazaar means to them.
Nabila: Oh, take me back to the good ‘ol days. Growing up, my father would take me to the Geylang bazaar during Ramadan to make the annual Zakat payment, giving alms to the less fortunate. Little me would volunteer to drop the cash donation into this huge triangular clear box located right outside Joo Chiat Complex (not sure if anyone remembers this iconic scene). We would then take a walk along the array of food stalls; passing by mouth-watering dum biryani, sizzling hot kebab stalls and ice cold Kathira – a traditional milk drink with basil seed and malva nuts. We’d join an endless queue for the infamous dum biryani for iftar all drenched in sweat, both hungry and thirsty… counting down the minutes to break fast.
Time changes everything but the memories live on, forever… well almost. The bazaar has transitioned into nothing more than a large-scale hyped-up pasar malam (night market) with bizarre food fads that just don’t seem to last. Remember the rainbow bagels, unicorn drinks and truffle everything? And don’t get me started on food served in a bucket.
For me, I prefer making quick trips to the bazaar in comfy clothes and sticking to the traditional food like dendeng (beef jerky or halal bakwa) and ayam percik – barbecued spiced chicken doused in lime-infused spicy gravy.
But there’s always light at the end of the tunnel
However, the organisers have definitely made their mark in changing the ambience and concept of the bazaar this year. Both Hylman and Nabila are looking at the positive side of things this year. From makeshift food stalls made of shipping containers – painted and decorated to fit the style of each F&B brand – to crate dining areas under a canopy of fairy lights that almost feels like dining under the stars, it’s a different vibe this year Hey, if it works in Brixton and Shoreditch in London, why not in Geylang? ‘Together with the wooden tables, basket seats and pretty decorations like the fairy lights and swings, it’s given the Ramadan Bazaar a modern look.’
Hylman’s fondest family memories are of last-minute, middle-of-the-night visits to the bazaar to shop and of course hunt for delicious bazaar food. Though it’s changed over the years, the atmosphere has always been the same – bright and colourful lights, crazy crowds, the ‘lelongs’ and traditional outfits, snacks and carpets to snap up. ‘And I can’t wait to get my hands one some dendeng (beef jerky/halal bak kwa). The price has ridiculously increased over the years but it’s still a go-to bazaar snack for me’.
Before you begin, you’ll need these tips to conquer the bazaar like a boss
Wear comfy clothes and shoes: queues, crowds and Singapore’s humidity – enough said.
Bring a fan: battery-operated ones work wonders.
Make sure you’ve stocked enough tissue and wet tissue: it’s going to get messy so come prepared.
Bring a reusable tote bag: we couldn’t help but think how much plastic could be saved if we brought a few tote bags along.
Be prepared to divide and conquer: the queues can get a little crazy but with a little planning, you could work through all the stalls. Best to have a meeting point to feast together.
And now, we eat! Traditional munchies you’ll find at the bazaar
Ayam percik – barbecued chicken wing on a stick but doused in lime-infused spicy gravy
Dendeng – yaas. Halal bak kwa ftw. If you’ve never tried it, it tastes like a smokey-sweet beef jerky.
Otak-otak – grilled fish cake made of fish meat, tapioca starch and spices, barbecued in banana leaves for extra flavour. A staple at many barbecues in Singapore.
Ramly burger – Jewel Changi has Shake Shack, Geylang Serai Bazaar has the infamous Ramly Burger. Who would have thought that wrapping a beef or chicken patty with egg and doused in chilli and mayo would taste so good? Genius!
Apam balik – Save room for dessert, you’ll want to get a slice of this turnover pancake with fillings like peanut, corn, cheese, chocolate and banana. Chinese commonly know it as ban jian kuih.
Prawn vadai – Savoury doughnuts fried to perfection. Also try the ikan bilis vadai and don’t forget to have ‘em with raw green chilis.
Keropok lekor – basically two or more versions of fish crackers. We also for the long and crispy one with that spicy chili sauce.
Goreng pisang – Two words. Deep-fried banana. Chomp down on ‘em while it’s hot.
Nasi biryani – You can’t ignore the massive tub of biryani, a spiced rice dish with your choice of tender lamb, chicken, fish, or vegetables.
Kathira – quench your thirst with this traditional milk drink with basil seed and malva nuts.
Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar, 3 May – 5 June, 4pm – midnight, 1 Engku Aman Turn, Singapore 408528