1 August 2012
By Melati Mohd Ariff
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 1 (Bernama) -- "Food fair" is probably what best describes the Ramadan bazaars that are running throughout the country.
The patrons found at the jam-packed bazaars, though fasting, often do not appear tired or lethargic when it comes to shopping for their delicacies. And today they are spoilt for choice.
For many patrons much of their time is spent at the stalls along the road that sell numerous delicacies.
Where should one stop first?
The tantalizing aroma of the 'ikan percik' and 'ayam percik' on the hot-grill added to both otak-otak and satar (both snacks made of fish meat and spices which are wrapped in banana leaves), and satay (grilled chicken meat) and ikan pekasam (pungent fermented fish) is just "overwhelming", to borrow a term from a friend who shared her experience following a visit to the Ramadan bazaar at Setiawangsa on the second day of fasting.
"There are just too many people there. I suggest that you go there early. Don't think of going there after 5 pm, since the market is too crowded and your shopping will be difficult to manage with children," she says.
"Finding a parking space is another headache," cautions another friend while describing her experience at a Ramadan bazaar in Rawang.
This is probably a scenario most common to the early part of the fasting month when Muslims fulfill their third responsibility towards Islam.
Though their hands may hold countless bags from purchase, most patrons still refuse to leave the bazaar and instead set out on yet another round of shopping.
Still at the end of the day, most food items just end up in dustbin on flimsy pretexts of poor taste or too much choice.
As for those who have no time to cook or want to try something different, the Ramadan Bazaar true to its name is probably their best choice.
For some families it is cheaper to shop at such sites, especially when there are only one or two people to feed.
With regard to prices, one must close his eyes. Food prices it seems are never going to come down.
"Take it, or leave it", is what most traders insist on while putting the blame squarely on the high cost of ingredients.
There was a time when a traditional Malay kuih was sold just at 10 sen, then the price was raised to 30 sen, followed by three pieces for RM1. Today, however, the cheapest kuih you can buy will cost you 40 sen, even as others cost anywhere between 50 and 70 sen.
That's how much one pays at Ramadan bazaars. Apart from Ramadan bazaars, hotels too are ready to cash in with their sumptuous offers of the buka puasa spread.
Some of the platters available on the 'buka puasa' spread are just mind boggling with menus listing between 100 and 150 items to choose from!
Most of the hotels promote traditional fares, including the kampung gourmet that is much sought after.
What about the price? The platter can cost anywhere between RM50 and RM100 per head! Families who come with children have to pay between RM30 and RM40 per child.
Some shoppers complain that the buffet prices have gone up unlike last year. Like the Ramadan Bazaar, some hotels claim their raised prices are justified, especially due to the high cost of raw ingredients and the fact that they have to maintain quality!
CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE
Nevertheless, Muslims should spend cautiously during Ramadan and Hari Raya.
The Director of Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations' (Fomca) Communications, Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman says, "Instead of spending unnecessarily on food and other items, Muslims should instead focus more on religious activities during Ramadan."
"Every opportunity to spending moderately while reducing expenses during this holy month ought to be fully utilised," he adds.
"The money saved can be used to prepare for Hari Raya," he advises.
He is also of the view that costly fast- breaking functions like at hotels are unnecessary.
Apart from wasting money, he pointed out such lavish 'buka puasa' events were also not in line with the spirit of Ramadan that emphasises on moderation.
"The best thing to do is to eat simple meals at home. Any excess money can be donated to mosques or surau to sponsor collective fast- breaking events," notes Mohd Yusof.
He also touches on the fast- breaking events at hotels where orphans and students learn the Quran.
According to Mohd Yusof, however, it was still better to hold events at the orphanages themselves as more people could participate.
ISSUES RELATING TO HALAL
Mohd Yusof also reminded Muslim consumers to be more discerning in their choice when breaking fast.
He pointed out more and more hotels and eateries are offering Ramadan buffets to entice Muslims, but remained ambiguous on whether they conform to the halal prerequisites.
"What happens when the hotel has no halal certification from the authorities?" he asks.
He adds that authorities should stop Ramadan buffets that run without halal verification by enforcing the Trade Description Act, thereby making it mandatory for hotels offering Ramadan fare have halal approval.
Datuk Othman Mustapha, the Director-General of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim), recently advised hotel operators without genuine halal certification to avoid placing halal logo or wordings that can be misconstrued as genuinely halal.
JAKIM's statistics confirmed that 812 halal approvals have been given out from the 1,487 applications originally received from hotel kitchens and food premises for the Ramadan buffets.
The number involves 359 hotels and 453 eateries.
PILING UP DEBTS
Some Muslims not only spend a lot on food during Ramadan, they virtually spend money on a lot of luxuries which at the end of the day result in servicing their debts.
"Their poor financial management starts from their youth. A recent study conducted by Consumer Research and Resource Centre, FOMCA's research wing, found that 46.8 per cent of the respondents used at least 30 per cent of their gross income to pay debts. The study indicated that 37 per cent of respondents spent beyond their means. The study was conducted among 1,002 young workers in the cities," he explains.
As for these people, he claims, they have no qualms about living in debts since what matters to them is that everything be new. "Some want to show off their new car each time they 'balik kampung!'" he admonishes.
Finally, they are saddled with credit card debts and they resort to loans from illegal money lenders or loan sharks!
"A journalist involved in the loan shark activities last year told me that Malays mostly resort to these money lenders, especially during the festive period," says Mohd Yusof to Bernama.
He pointed out that this is an unhealthy development despite reports played up by the media on the consequences of borrowing from the loan sharks. However, many continue to borrow from them brazenly.
"Maybe there are some people desperate for money who have no avenues of getting help from financial institutions due to stricter conditions imposed on them," he says.
Mohd Yusof advises Muslim consumers to spend carefully, especially during Hari Raya.
They also ought to work out a financial plan beforehand and set a spending budget.
To this end, they should start saving before spending.
"By Ramadan, they should have enough money to spend and they should only spend based on what their means allow. The problem is that Malaysians still don't save much and in times of financial distress they seek loans. This poor financial attitude should be discarded and newer methods to save must be adopted," he adds.
Mohd Yusof notes that if they still cannot curb their urge to spend, they should spend on jewelry as a form of investment.
"Jewelry can appreciate in value and can be pawned when the need arises," he explains.