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April 29, 2017

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Food controversies are center stage while Malaysia celebrates Ramadan

KUALA LUMPUR -- At his stall outside a mosque in central Kuala Lumpur, Ridzuan Bakri wipes beads of sweat from his forehead before pushing another long piece of sugar cane into a juicing machine.

With not long to go before the breaking of the daily fast, his mother points to the almost empty plastic pitcher, yet to be filled with juice for thirsty customers in the Malay Muslim enclave of Kampung Baru.

"Sugar cane juice is very good after fasting, it does not upset the stomach," 20-year-old Ridzuan says, as he pours the freshly squeezed juice into the pitcher.

"Even as a young boy, I was helping my parents sell sugar cane juice during Ramadan," he says. "We make good money."

The sweet smell of the freshly squeezed juice is quickly overpowered by the powerful aroma of spiced goat meat wrapped in Indian bread at the next stall.

A hundred more stalls line the street, ready to tempt punters with the smell of sauteed garlic and onions, frying spices, broiled meat and roasted fish, all wafted in the hot humid air.

For Muslim residents on the way home after a day of fasting, it is a heady fusion.

"I bought this food for my family so we can share it together once we break the fast," said Muslimin Abdurahman, showing a plastic bag packed with fried chicken, spring rolls and grilled fish with chili sauce. "Breaking the fast is a form of celebration."

For some, the so-called Ramadan bazaars which burst into life across Malaysia at sunset, are an unwelcome, commercial diversion from the spirit of Ramadan, traditionally a time to restrain one's desires and think of the needy.

The bazaars "highlight the unhealthy trend of feasting over glorious food instead of fasting," wrote Zaid Mohamad, a family counselor, in his column in New Straits Times, a daily English newspaper.

"It is common to see visitors leaving with bags of food as if they are buying for the whole neighborhood," he commented.

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