There’s nothing in this world like the food you will find in Malaysia during Hari Raya. Don’t get me wrong, we have amazing food all year round and for special occasions, but the delicacies served during Hari Raya are at the top of most of our tourists “must have” lists.
Hari Raya marks the end of Ramadan, or the fasting month, for Muslims worldwide, and especially here in Malaysia. So what follows a month of fasting? A whole month of celebrations and eating amazing dishes, many of which can only be found this time of the year. But you don’t have to be Muslim to enjoy them and experience everything that Hari Raya has to offer. But we can talk about other aspects of Hari Raya later. Let’s dive right in and talk about my personal favorite subject, the food.
11 Traditional Hari Raya Dishes
Lemang can take four to five hours just to cook, but I’m here to tell you it is well worth it. The cooking process alone is unique and has gone unchanged since its beginning. Lemang is essentially coconut milk, sticky rice, and a little salt wrapped in fragrant banana leaves, then stuffed into hollow bamboo sticks and roasted over fire.
The banana leaves stop the rice from sticking to the bamboo tube.
You’ll know Lemang when you see them all lined up in a row being cooked in stalls. They are set against the fire, slightly slanted then turned every so often so everything gets cooked evenly. The Lemang is then served with either shredded beef, chicken or even curries of your liking.
Another great way to enjoy rice that tourists and locals line up for is Ketupat, the symbol of Hari Raya Like Lemang, Ketupat is unique and can be served in place of traditional steamed rice.
Ketupat is like a dumpling where rice is packed into a diamond shaped pocket made from woven palm. Its then boiled. Once fully cooked, the woven palm wrapper is cut and peeled away so the rice inside can be sliced and served with whatever meal you would normally have with regular rice. I like to encourage our tourists like to try a combination of Ketupat and Lemang on the same plate with their meat and vegetables since that’s the way I like it as well.
It’s impossible for me to write about or even talk about Rendang without craving it. And once you try this traditional festival dish on your next trip to Malaysia, you will have the same experience. It’s the most famous beef recipe in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. It’s so delicious in fact, that in 2011, rendeng was number one in CNN’s “World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods.”
An all-time favourite for the festive table, rendang is often prepared with either beef or chicken infused with aromatic spices and coconut milk for hours. Many culinary experts around the world like to refer to rendang as a curry because of the way it’s slowly stewed on low heat and the array of spices, but it’s richer than a curry and has less sauce, so many Malaysians don’t consider it a curry
Interestingly, rendang contains natural preservatives due to its recipe which calls for a unique fusion of ground spices and coconut milk, which gives the dish a shelf life up to four weeks.
Bubur Lambuk is a type of porridge that has many variations, however Kuma, or date powder, is often the main ingredient. It really depends where in Malaysia you go, ut all of the tourists who have tried the many variations say they are all delicious. The recipe traditionally calls for a flavourful combination of anise, cardamom, cinnamon and black pepper, among other spices. Vegetables and meat are added as well.
This is a dish that can actually be found being served for free at many Mosques and food banks during the month of Ramadan. It is a symbol of the tradition of feeding the poor during the Holy month, which is one of the pillars of the faith.
While the base ingredients to make this sweet Hari Raya dessert – coconut milk, cane sugar and rice flour – appear unassuming enough, in truth this is one of the most challenging recipes on this list. The cooking process involves continuously stirring the sticky mixture in a hot wok for nine hours. Then it is rolled, portioned out and individually wrapped.
All this effort does pay off beautifully at the end when you bite into an incredibly rich and flavourful dessert that’s as popular with adults as it is with children. Doldol can also be found in durian, soursop, apple, jackfruit, and milk flavours.
Lontong is a combination of nasi impit, vegetables and meat, served together with a savoury coconut milk base. Lotong can be eaten as a full meal since it has everything included in it.
Depending on the region it’s prepared in, there are several variations. Some cooks include peanut in the gravy while others add tempeh or a hard-boiled egg. The bright orange coconut soup is usually served separate from the ingredients to avoid softening the rice cakes.
This is a popular snack during Hari Raya and it’s a must try in my opinion. Its what we call a “meat floss” and can be made from any meat like beef, chicken, anchovy, prawn, and fish. The meat is seasoned and cooked until dry, sort of like a way to preserve it.
It can be eaten in many different ways too like a filling for pastries, on a bun or even as a burger.
Sayur Lodeh originated in Indonesia, but has made its way into Malaysia and we accepted with open arms. A great Hari Raya tradition, this is a hearty coconut stew made with a variety of vegetables like eggplant, green beans and long beans to name a few. It can also have tofu, temph or really anything the cook likes.
Sometimes tumeric can find its way into the dish so if you see a version that has a yellow tint to it, don’t be alarmed. It’s just a little extra flavor. Go for it.
What can I say about Kuih-muih? If you are into desserts and sweets as much as I am, you are going love this traditional, sugary Malay dessert. This is almost an unlimited collection of bite sized biscuits, cakes and jellies with an astounding array of flavors. Kids go crazy for them.
If a spicy tart fish stew sounds good to you (it does to me) then you will have to try Asam Pedas. This is a dish that is mainly found in homes on the Hari Raya table, however some restaurants will serve it during celebration time.
Again this is a stew that slow cooks for a long time as the broth and spices seep into the meat and you end up with a delicious meal.
Now satay is something can be found normally year round. Why si it on this list? Satay is meat on a stick (chicken, beef, lamb), grilled over charcoal to perfection and served with pineapple or sliced cucumbers and a spicy peanut sauce. Need I say more?
This is actually very popular during Hari Raya since it’s a great accompaniment to lumbong or ketupat.
The above list is just a sampling of some of the traditional foods you’ll find during Hari Raya month. If you are fortunate to be invited into a Muslim home to celebrate with them, they may have other family traditional dishes as well. Keep in mind, that even though the food is delicious and a lot of work goes into it, the food is only the medium to bringing families together during this celebration.
Enjoy Hari Raya As A Tourist
There are so many ways besides food to enjoy the month of Hari Raya as a tourist. Here are a few to think about.
A favorite way of many of our tourists is to get invited to an open house to experience first hand how to celebrate alongside a Muslim family and indulge in all the delicacies. It’s not difficult to make amazing Muslim friends in Malaysia and in their faith they do receive extra blessings for inviting a foreigner into their homes for food and celebration.
Even our government organizes National Open House for the public to come and enjoy the food.
Hari Raya is a time for new clothes and dressing to impress. As a tourist, you can definitely take advantage of the incredible savings during Hari Raya sales. So if you are visiting this time of the year, make sure to leave some space in your suitcase for what you will bring home.
More about Hari Raya (and tips on celebrating with the Muslims)
- Hari Raya lasts for the whole month
- Hari Raya Eidulfitri and Hari Raya Aiduladha is not the same celebration
- It’s rude to eat or drink while standing up
- Guys don’t shake hands with ladies in the house
- There are no strict rules on gifting
- Inauspicious colours are not a thing
- Don’t visit houses after 9pm unless you are invited.
The celebration marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and is a culmination of the month-long struggle towards a higher spiritual state. Ramadan holds special significance for Muslims, since the Quran, the book of Muslim scripture, was revealed during this month.
Fireworks are always a part of Hari Raya which can be both fun and dangerous. In some places fireworks have been banned, but there are always some around to get the real feel for Hari Raya.
Since it is a season of giving, you may hear about or encounter (or even get one yourself!) a “green packet”. These little packets are tokens given by the older generation to the young singles around them. What’s inside? Joy. It could be cash or some other trinket to bring luck and happiness.
Even though Hari Raya is a celebration, it still hold a special significance to the Muslim community and they take it just as seriously as they do with Ramadan. Charity is openly practiced especially on the last day of Ramadan and all through Hari Raya you can see families giving food and money to the poor or even inviting them into their homes so they can all celebrate together. Come and visit us in Malaysia during Hari Raya and you will surely get invited. Let’s eat!