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Hari Raya bazaar offers a feast for the senses

Colourful and funky foods are drawing attention at the Hari Raya Bazaar at Geylang Serai, but so is the fact that many stalls are not halal-certified

The hipster invasion continues at the Hari Raya Bazaar at Geylang Serai this year, where young stall owners get even more creative in coming up with the most photogenic, exotic or unusual dishes to lure customers.

At this fair held during the fasting month of Ramadan, the rainbow food trend - where everything is made as colourful as possible - is not abating.

There are rainbow noodles and rainbow cheeseburgers (just the buns, thank goodness) and even something called the Unicorn milkshake, a pink drink topped with whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles, candy and a unicorn-shaped meringue. More exotic international options are also available. New offerings include melted raclette cheese on potatoes and cocktail sausages, Scotch eggs with Asian flavours, and smoke-releasing dragon's breath dessert.

Another trend at the bazaar is grilled seafood featuring the pricier members of the shellfish family, such as oysters, scallops and crawfish. There are at least five such posh seafood stalls.

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These funky stalls are only the tip of the iceberg at the bazaar, considered the mother of all Hari Raya fairs. The market has more than 1,000 stalls, up from 800 last year. There are stalls selling clothes, home decor items and even cars.

The food section has more than 200 stalls. Besides the new "artisanal" stalls, there is traditional fare such as Ramly burgers, kebabs and ayam percik (grilled spiced chicken).

The bazaar stretches along Engku Aman Road, Geylang Road between OneKM mall and Geylang Serai Market and around Tanjong Katong Complex. It runs till June 24, the day before Hari Raya Puasa.

However, a controversy has plagued this year's fair. Two weeks ago, websites Halalfoodhunt.com and The Halal Food Blog, which respectively lists and reviews halal establishments, conducted an investigation into whether the stalls at the bazaar are halal-certified or Muslim-owned - two ways to determine if food is acceptable for Muslims to consume.

They published their findings in a post and listed the stalls that are Muslim-owned or halal-certified.

Ms Jumaiyah Mahathir, managing director of Chooosie Group, the holding company of the two websites, says that of the 170 food stalls they polled, half were neither halal-certified nor Muslim-owned.

To apply for halal certification from the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), the stall must have a central kitchen or principal premise that is halal-certified.

Bazaar organisers, the Geylang Serai and Kembangan-Chai Chee Citizens' Consultative Committees, were unable to give figures on how many of the stalls are either halal-certified or Muslim-owned.

Of the 12 stall owners The Straits Times spoke to, half were not Muslim and had no halal certification. Instead, they say their ingredients are halal-certified.

Marine Parade GRC Member of Parliament Fatimah Lateef, adviser to Geylang Serai Grassroots Organisations and Geylang Serai Bazaar 2017 Organising Committee, urges the Malay-Muslim community to look at the "the bigger picture".

"There is a healthy mix of Malay and non-Malay vendors at the bazaar, which is in line with the organising committee's hopes for the community to be more inclusive and that stalls selling food and beverages only make up a quarter of the stalls," she says.

Some non-Muslim vendors say their business has been affected.

Ms Jean Lee, 33, co-founder of The Slurp Shack which sells rainbow noodles and drinks, says business has dropped by 60 per cent since the websites' post was published. All her ingredients are halal-certified and she is willing to show any sceptical customer the certificates. "We even bought a new set of pots and pans," she says.

Loco Loco, which sells churros and Scotch eggs at two stalls, has put up printouts listing where its ingredients are from and that they are halal-certified. Its managing director Crystal Cheng, 23, says it is getting halal certification for its upcoming shop at Northpoint Shopping Centre.

Ms Miza Nazili, 23, owner of grilled seafood stall ShellBurnz, thinks all stalls in the bazaar should have halal certification or be Muslim-owned. "The assumption is that the food at a Ramadan bazaar will be halal since it is a place Muslims go to break fast," she says.

Mr Mohammed Noor Firdaus Sumawi, 31, a regular visitor to the bazaar, agrees. "It's good to have more options and I understand that the bazaar is not exclusively for Muslims. But I feel that it should cater to Muslims first and foremost as this is a Ramadan bazaar," says the soon-to-be-teacher.


Unusual bites


ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE

THE RACLETTE SET BY THE RACLETTE FACTORY

What: Raclette, the gooey and rich cheese usually found in restaurants and cafes, has popped up at the bazaar.

One Raclette Set ($12, above) consists of the Alpine cheese, which is airflown from France, slathered on a bed of baby potatoes and chicken cocktail sausages. The more substantial $40 family platter is good for about four or five people to share.

The stall is not Muslim-owned, but the owners say they use halal-certified ingredients for all items. 

Where: Stall 78, in front of the Muslim Converts' Association of Singapore (or Darul Arqam) 

Open: 12.30pm to 1am daily 

Info: www.facebook.com/TheRacletteFactory

POKERITTOS BY POKERITTO

What: Designed to look like a beachside hut, this stall serves creative, photogenic dishes.

The pokeritto (above, $5 for half-size and $8 for full size) is an adaptation of the poke bowl, but with cooked seafood and served burrito-style.

Each roll is packed with scallop, mussels, crab seasoned in three flavours - wasabi, sriracha spicy or soya sauce - and vegetables such as corn, cucumber and lettuce.

Depending on the flavour, each is coated with crushed chips such as red Flamin' Hot Cheetos for the spicy roll and yellow chicken- flavoured crisps for the Oriental roll.

The stall also serves acai bowls ($6), comprising acai berry sorbet served with chia seed pudding, granola and fruit or chocolate.

The stall's owners are not Muslim, but say they use halal-certified ingredients for all the items. 

Where: Stall 48, along Engku Aman Road and next to the Wisma Geylang Serai construction site 

Open: 4 to 11pm (weekdays), 3pm to midnight (weekends) 

Info: www.instagram.com/pokeritto.sg

SCOTCH EGGS BY LOCO LOCO 

What: This English deep-fried snack is given an Asian makeover here (above). The meat that coats the egg is minced chicken ($5) or beef ($6), and infused with Asian flavours such as oyster sauce. Sweet Peking sauce is drizzled on top and the dish comes with prawn keropok (deep-fried crackers) on the side.

Fans of Loco Loco's churros can try its newest flavour, chilli crab ($6 a cup). The churros are smothered in a housemade chilli-crab sauce.

The stall is not Muslim-owned, but the owner says it uses halal- certified ingredients for all items 

Where: Scotch eggs sold at Stall 7, along Engku Aman Road and next to the Wisma Geylang Serai construction site; Stall 11, near Onan Road, sells the chilli-crab churros 

Open: 1pm till late daily

Info: www.facebook.com/locolocosg

CHOCOLATE KEBAB BY ISTANBUL EXPRESS

What: Meat kebabs are a standard item at the bazaar, but have you ever tried a sweet version?

Besides the usual chicken and beef kebabs, Istanbul Express serves a chocolate kebab ($5, above).

The fillings are shaved from a rotisserie holding a slab of brown, white and pink layers. The colourful mixture is a Neapolitan mix of chilled chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

Thin slivers of the colourful block are shaved onto flatbread before marshmallows and sprinkles are added.

The stall is Muslim-owned. 

Where: Stall 91, along Engku Aman Road and next to the Wisma Geylang Serai construction site

Open: Noon to midnight daily


Rainbows galore

RAINBOW PLANET ICE-CREAM PUFF BY FAIRYFLOSS 

What: If you have a craving for old-school ice-cream sandwiches, this upgraded, spherical version (above) should be able to scratch that itch and more.

The multi-coloured bun is filled with a scoop of cookies and cream ice cream before it is placed into a special sandwich press that warms up the bread while keeping the filling cold. Customers can add more rainbow treats, such as cereal, sprinkles or fairy floss (candy floss that looks like strands of hair).

The floss is the main ingredient in the candy-floss burritos and wrapped in pandan- or blueberry-flavoured crepes.

The stall is not Muslim-owned, but the owners say it uses halal-certified ingredients for all items. 

Where: Stall 33, along Engku Aman Road and next to the Wisma Geylang Serai construction site

Open: 3pm to midnight (weekdays), 3pm to 1am (weekends) 

Info: www.facebook.com/FairyflossOfficial

HANDSOME BURG BY WORD. 

What: Word. cafe has brought back its popular rainbow bagels and is now using them in cheeseburgers.

The Handsome Burg ($8, above) uses an Angus ribeye beef patty and comes with fries. This is a smaller version of the burger sold at the cafe at double the price.

Other items on the menu include Coney Dogs ($6), a hot dog sandwich slathered with meat sauce; and Bucket Gangster ($7 to $8), fruity drinks with kooky names such as Mat Rep and Ah Beng, served in a small bucket that is perfect for sharing.

The stall is Muslim-owned. 

Where: Stalls 8 and 30, along Engku Aman Road and next to the Wisma Geylang Serai construction site; and stall 50, in front of the Muslim Converts' Association of Singapore (or Darul Arqam)

Open: 3pm to 1am (weekdays), 3pm till late (weekends). Go earlier to get the burger as it sells out quickly

Info: www.facebook.com/wordbistro

SLURPBAG BY THE SLURP SHACK

What: As its name suggests, the SlurpBag ($6, above) is a transparent bag containing a colourful mess of yellow, green, red and blue noodles, carrots, cucumbers, prawns and crabsticks one can slurp up on the go. Pick from three sauces: chilli crab, laksa and Japanese sesame.

Look for another eye-catching item at the stall: the SwagPotion ($5), neon-coloured drinks served in a blood bag.

The stall's owners are not Muslim, but they say they use halal-certified ingredients for all items. 

Where: Stall 58, along Engku Aman Road and next to the Wisma Geylang Serai construction site 

Open: 5.30 to 11.30pm (weekdays), 3pm to midnight (weekends)

Info: www.instagram.com/theslurpshack

UNICORN SWIRL BY OVER THE RAINBOW

What: Move over, rainbow-coloured food. Unicorn food is the new rage. It does not involve the mythical creature, but is an upgraded version of the rainbow trend, with more cutesy and colourful ingredients, such as candy and sprinkles.

The stall's bestseller is the Unicorn Swirl ($7.90, above): a pink bubblegum-flavoured milkshake with a generous topping of whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles, candy and marshmallows. On top is a cute unicorn-shaped meringue. If that is not sweet enough, customers can add a scoop of ice cream.

There is also Unicorn Sparkling Tears ($6.90), a lychee-flavoured bottled drink that comes in different colours. When you shake the drink, glitter swirls inside.

The stall is Muslim-owned. 

Where: Stall 61, along Engku Aman Road and next to the Wisma Geylang Serai construction site 

Open: 4 to 11pm (weekdays), 4pm to 1am (weekends) 

Info: www.facebook.com/OverTheRainbow.Sg61


Taste of the sea

GRILLED CHEESE SEAFOOD PLATTER BY SHELLBURNZ

What: At $10, the seafood platter is good value. It comes with three scallops, a mussel and a small crab topped with cheese and served with a housemade Thai green-chilli dip.

Also check out the Giant Octopus Takoyaki (above, $8 for three pieces or $10 for four pieces), a premium version of the Japanese street food. Each ball has a baby octopus inside.

The Muslim owner says the fresh seafood is brought in from Malaysia daily. 

Where: Stall 14, along Engku Aman Road and next to the Wisma Geylang Serai construction site 

Open: 2pm to 1am daily 

Info: www.instagram.com/shellburnz_

OYSTERS, CRAWFISH AND MINI SOFT-SHELL CRAB BY SEAFOOD HUNTER

What: Satisfy your shellfish cravings at this stall with items such as grilled crawfish ($10 for four), half-shell oysters (above, $10 for four) or spicy fried mini soft-shell crabs ($5 a cup).

The seafood platter ($18) comes with three half-shell oysters, three crawfish and one small crab or breaded oyster.

The stall is not Muslim-owned, but the owner is a seafood supplier that has a Malaysian farm. The company also gets its catch from Indonesia. The seafood is halal-certified. 

Where: Stall 28, in front of the Muslim Converts' Association of Singapore (or Darul Arqam) 

Open: 2pm to midnight (weekdays), 2pm to 1am (weekends)

Info: www.facebook.com/SGSeafoodHunter

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2017, with the headline 'Halal issue troubles bazaar'. Print Edition | Subscribe