THE English winter has almost arrived and chilly winds and cold temperatures are sweeping across the land.
As balding trees and fallen leaves gradually envelope an already dreary landscape, one cannot help but feel a sense of gloom all around.
Yet the warm spirit of Ramadan is clearly evident among the Malaysian Muslim community in Britain. From the cosy atmosphere of the iconic Malaysia Hall canteen in Bayswater to charming food places such as Mawar Restaurant, Nahar Café and Satay House in central London, Malaysians are congregating at their favourite eateries to break their fast.
Without doubt, the Malaysia Hall canteen is a focal point for Malaysian students, office workers, professionals and Malaysian High Commission staff not only to berbuka puasa (break their fast) but also to catch up on the latest news back home.
The camaraderie is close, as those present exchange pleasantries while savouring delicious chicken or beef rendang, satay or nasi lemak.
At the Oriental City shopping centre in Colindale, north-west London, three Malay food traders have been cooking up a storm during the Ramadan month.
Not only are they catering to the buka puasa crowd from Malaysia but also Muslims from Brunei, Indonesia, India, the Middle East and African countries.
The majority of their customers are from Singapore, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka, who seem to be attracted to Malaysias irresistible culinary delights.
Kelantan chef Kazman Kuzi has been busily whipping up popular dishes such as nasi goreng kampung and nasi lemak for a steady stream of customers.
Together with his brother-in-law Zain Wahab, they serve a large variety of halal Malaysian cuisine at their Lemon Grass stall in the complexs food court.
With colourful ketupat lights dangling above trays of Ramadan kuih such as serunding pulut, lapis cake, pulut panggang, kuih kosui, pulut inti, sri kaya and ketayap, the stall evokes the familiar raya mood in Malaysia.
Business is good, especially during the school term holidays and weekends, just like in Malaysia, said Kazman, a former chef at Dorchester Hotel.
Armed with a chefs diploma and four years working experience at the hotel, Kazman opened Lemon Grass in 2001 to sell authentic kampung-style halal food at affordable prices.
Over at Husin Longs stall, a large crowd had gathered around to check out Malaysian favourites such as curry puff, kuih ubi, seri muka, kuih lapis, kuih kuchi, onde-onde, kuih bakar and cendol.
Neatly stacked in plastic containers and trays, most of the delicacies would have been snapped up by late afternoon, especially by the Ramadan crowd.
I sell more than 200 curry puffs and two big pots of nasi lemak every day, said the grinning 61-year-old trader from Kampung Duyong, Malacca.
Assisted by his daughter Sarina Husin, 34, and her husband Hafiz Tong, 37, the trio were kept on their toes taking orders from customers.
For the puasa month, Husin and his wife Zauyah Embi have to be up by 3am every Friday to prepare food for their weekend business.
And he takes pride in purchasing only genuine Malaysian ingredients such as ikan bilis, dried chillies, curry powder and yeast through friends and relatives.
Its important to ensure our customers enjoy truly authentic Malaysian food, declared Husin, whose sales received a boost when 20 staff members of the Brunei royal family ordered their buka puasa fare from him during their recent stay in London.
Its a great way to promote Malaysian cuisine, he added with a glint in his eye.
A stones throw away, Azizah Brady, 42, and her two sons, Syabil, 16, and Aiman, 11, were serving customers a wide selection of mouth-watering dishes.
Placed atop a circular table with a poster of Penang Bridge beckoning customers were numerous trays of exotic Malaysian delicacies including tomato rice, ikan sumbat, chicken and beef rendang, ikan goreng and asam laksa.
Our beef and chicken rendang and the spicy and sour fish are most popular with customers, said Azizah who is from Kuala Lumpur.
Azizah said she had to prepare extra food to cater to the multi-national Ramadan crowd, especially during weekends.
London Umno club chairman Khairuddin Mohd Hussin said Malaysians had no problem getting halal food in major cities such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham and Sheffield.
However, raya delicacies like lemang, ketupat and murtabak are almost impossible to find, except during the open house by the Malaysian High Commission, he said.
Having said that, Malaysians, especially students, generally find it cheaper to cook at home and eating out is considered a treat. But whether its eating at home or outside, the berbuka puasa tradition is very much alive in Britain.
o Choi Tuck Wo is Editor, European Union Bureau, based in London (e-mail: email@example.com)