Tue Aug 25 2009
Rebecca Lynne Tan
The Sunday Times
Singapore, August 23, 2009 - This Ramadan, Muslims will have a couple of new options when it comes to breaking their daily fast, and even the old favourite eateries have come up with new menus.
Bookings have also been brisk, with some eateries almost booked up for the entire fasting month. Fika, a new halal Swedish cafe and bistro in Beach Road opened last week, while Concorde Hotel Singapore in Orchard Road is the latest hotel to become halal-certified.
Some eateries are also adding new items to their spread. Straits Kitchen in the Grand Hyatt Singapore (top) has flown in two guest chefs from the Hyatt Regency in Dubai to prepare special Middle Eastern dishes for the Ramadan buffet this year.
Among the new offerings are hummus (chick pea dip), mixed grilled meats, um ali (a croissant pudding with mixed nuts and fresh cream) and ktayef (small pancakes stuffed with cinnamon sugar and vanilla syrup).
All these are on top of its existing spread of local and hawker food.
Over at Lebanese eatery Gulf Beach Restaurant in Arab Street, two-course set dinners can be had for $15. Diners can choose between a soup or salad to start, a main such as a shawarma (a wrap with meat) or a shish taouk (grilled chicken breast).
Until Sept 19, Muslims fast from dawn till sunset. This fasting month of Ramadan ends with a celebration known as Eid ul-Fitri or Hari Raya Puasa, which falls on Sept 20.
Breaking fast in restaurants has caught on in the last few years, with Muslims heading to halal eateries with friends and family to bond over food.
While many places offer the usual nasi padang-style dishes such as ayam goreng (fried chicken) and sayur lodeh (stewed vegetables in coconut milk), some are offering new tastes to entice diners.
Fika (above), in the heart of the Middle-Eastern restaurant district, stands out with its all-white decor.
The menu has Swedish favourites such as meatballs in a creamy sauce served with lingonberry jam, and pytt i panna, a Swedish hash made with diced potatoes, onions and roast beef, topped with an egg cooked sunny-side up.
The cafe was opened by graphic designer Tasneem Noor, 28, who is married to a Swede.
Ms Tasneem, who says she loves to cook, has always wanted to open a cafe and learnt many Swedish recipes from her mother- in-law. Business has been brisk so far.
Diners who want more traditional offerings such as padang-style dishes can opt for the Ramadan buffet at Concorde Hotel Singapore in Orchard Road.
The hotel, whose banquet kitchen became halal-certified last month, will be offering its first Ramadan buffet spread at its poolside, with Malay and Indonesian dishes such as sop tulang (beef bone marrow soup) and opor ayam (chicken in coconut gravy).
The hotel saw the potential in tapping into the Muslim market.
Its spokesman says: “We were exploring new markets and recognised that there was good potential in the Muslim market whose workforce is getting more affluent, highly skilled and discerning.”
Bookings for the Ramadan buffet have been looking good. So far, it has received 238 bookings for the first two weeks. Its poolside area seats 250 people.
It seems the recession has not dampened bookings.
In fact, hotels say they have been receiving bookings and fielding enquiries since last month.
Popular buffet spreads include the ones at Carousel in Royal Plaza On Scotts and Straits Kitchen in the Grand Hyatt Singapore. Both have had overwhelming response. Carousel is already 70 per cent full for the first week of Ramadan and 50 per cent full for subsequent weeks.
This year, it will be offering dishes such as dum briyani with lamb shank and a new dish of salmon bakar (grilled salmon).
It is a similar story over at Straits Kitchen, which says it is near capacity for the entire month.
Other popular buffet spreads during Ramadan include the ones at the Mervale function room at Rendezvous Hotel Singapore, Kintamani Indonesian Restaurant at Furama RiverFront and the Tiffany Restaurant and Cafe at Furama City Centre.
For teacher Rafizah Ahmed, 42, breaking fast at a restaurant is usually a special affair. She says she breaks fast with her family at Carousel at least once each Ramadan.
She says: “It is not about indulgence, but when you go for a buffet, there is no fighting over what cuisine to go for.
“It is also a good opportunity to bond with the family and just spend time with one another over a meal.”
Others say they often have to break fast in restaurants because they work odd hours.
Mr Mohamed Saufi, 55, a security officer, says: “Some days, I work the afternoon and night shifts, so it is difficult to break fast at home with my family all the time.”
For others, it is a matter of convenience.
Marketing assistant Siti Samsudin, 25, says: “I would usually prefer to break fast at home but when you are working, it is sometimes easier to do it outside.”
She says during Ramadan, she often takes the opportunity to dine with her Muslim and non-Muslim colleagues at various halal restaurants, including Pizza Hut and the eateries in the Arab Street area.
But there is a downside to breaking fast in restaurants, as Mr Herman Salleh, 26, an artist and gallery curator, points out.
He says: “During Ramadan, I try not to eat out because it is packed everywhere and it is difficult to get a seat.”