For Shahrul Nizar Baharudin, 49, and his wife Norini Rapa, 40, Ramadan is a time for family.
“It’s a family bonding time, especially over food during sahur and iftar since during the day, we’re busy working or the children are studying, ” says Shahrul.
The couple have four children aged 13,10,9 and four months.
“Some of the best moments for us as a family during Ramadan are waking up in the early hours of the morning at 5am for sahur and prayers, and also breaking fast together in the evening, ” says Shahrul.
“It’s the time that the whole family gets to spend together, and it usually centres around good food, ” he says.
“For sahur, usually we’ll have a simple meal of rice, with dishes like telur dadar, ikan bilis goreng and serunding, ” says Shahrul.
“For iftar, we usually have rice and dishes such as tom yum soup, ayam kurma, ayam masak merah, and others. Usually the rice is cooked at home but the dishes and kuih-muih for breaking fast, we’ll get from the Ramadan bazaar on weekdays, ” he says, adding that it’s their way of supporting the vendors in the community.
On weekends, the spread is more elaborate, he adds.
It’s all about teamwork
But not only does the family have their meals together, Shahrul and Norini also cook together.
“Of course, I’ve to help my wife to cook too because I work from home and have more flexibility with time. She works in Putrajaya and by the time she gets home in the evenings, she’ll be tired. It’s all about teamwork, ” says Shahrul who is a freelance transporter for an e-hailing company. Norini is an assistant accountant at the Prime Minister’s Department.
He reveals that he learnt how to cook from young, from his grandmother who raised him.
“Ramadan happens only once a year. So it’s a good opportunity to make it special by preparing some delicious food – whether cooked at home or bought from the Ramadan bazaar – that we can have together for iftar, ” says Norini.
“We have special dishes like masak lemak ketam, ikan bakar, rendang ayam/daging, sup ekor/tulang, sambal petai with udang or sotong, kari kepala ikan, asam pedas pari, ikan kembung bakar, and others, ” she adds. “Usually, we’ll have two to three dishes for each meal.”
Usually about 10 days before Raya, the family will start making the Raya goodies – including semprit, chocolate chip cookies, and other assorted cakes, cookies and tarts – which the children love.
“And of course, I must help my wife with the baking too, ” adds Shahrul.
For the couple, Ramadan this year will not be so different from last year since the pandemic is still ongoing, with restrictions on inter-state travel still in place.
“It’s just that this year, we're allowed to go to the mosque for terawih prayers, unlike last year when it was not allowed as Ramadan was during the MCO, ” says Shahrul.
“Of course, we hope that this year, we’ll be able to cross the state borders to balik kampung. Then, we can celebrate Raya with our parents and siblings,” he says.
Both their families are in Perak: Shahrul’s parents live in Sungkai, while Norini’s father and sister are in Teluk Intan and they haven’t been back to visit for months.
“These are uncertain times, so we’ve to wait for the announcement from the authorities on what will happen this Raya,” says Shahrul. “The important thing is that the whole family is safe and healthy,” he adds.
Looking on the bright side
“Of course, it’s sad that we couldn’t balik kampung last year and possibly this year too due to the pandemic. But looking on the bright side, we did save a lot of money because we didn’t have to spend it on buying baju Raya,” laughs Shahrul good-naturedly.
This will be a special Ramadan and Raya for the couple, who just had a newborn baby last December.
“It will be our newborn son’s first Ramadan and Raya this year, and it’s also during the pandemic, so it’ll definitely be memorable,” he says, adding with a laugh that it might also be a bit "kelam-kabut" with baby on board.
Shahrul,who is also vice chairman of their residents’ association known as Persatuan Penduduk Taman Desa Restu Sepang, says that every year they provide iftar for the residents and also duit raya for the children.
But during the pandemic, activities have been somewhat scaled down and they are waiting for the pandemic to be over before resuming such community events.
“The children are very excited, they are happy during Ramadan because they know Raya is coming and they’ll get duit Raya,” he adds.
“I like to puasa and I puasa every Ramadan since I was seven,” interjects their son Adam Aarez, now 13.
“I think it’s important to set a good example for the children and teach them good values from young. At the start of every Ramadan, we read the Quran every night, and at the end of the month, we’ll finish reading all 30 juzuk (parts) of the Quran,” says Norini.