Is the Kampong Glam bazaar becoming a hot favourite among Singapore's youths?

Some youths say this year's bazaar stands out because of the trendy food options like sushi bakes and chilli cheese fish crackers.

Crowds flock to the Kampong Glam Ramadan bazaar on 22 March 2023.
Crowds at the Ramadan bazaar in Kampong Glam on Wednesday (22 March). (PHOTO:Bruce Lim/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Instead of just Hari Raya tunes blasting on speakers at Kampong Glam bazaar, be prepared to be greeted by the latest singles from current artists such as Taylor Swift.

And it doesn't end with just the music choices. The bustling Ramadan bazaar, visited by Yahoo News Singapore on Wednesday (22 March), is now selling a mix of modern and traditional dishes. Booths selling authentic Malay dishes such as dendeng (grilled meat), ayam percik (marinated grilled chicken) and Ramly burgers are now up against modern food stalls that sell dishes such as sushi bakes and tacos.

This year's event, which opened on 15 March and will run until 16 April along Baghdad Street, Kandahar Street and outside Sultan Gate, features the biggest food line-up with over 80 stalls in the bazaar's history.

The bazaar is organised by One Kampong Gelam in collaboration with Singapore Tourism Board, with "Raikan Cahaya Ramadan" as its theme, which means celebrating the light of Ramadan.

EVB bistro, which sells sushi bakes - a casserole version of a sushi roll containing ingredients such as unagi, prawn and octopus. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore/BruceLim)
EVB bistro, which sells sushi bakes - a casserole version of a sushi roll containing ingredients such as unagi, prawn and octopus. (PHOTO: Bruce Lim/Yahoo News Singapore)

Hipster foods' mainstream appeal

The growing mainstream appeal is an indication that the bazaar is modernising, which is one reason why Lisha, 23, prefers Kampong Glam over other bazaars.

She told Yahoo News Singapore that it's her first time visiting the bazaar and she was excited to see more trendy food choices such as sushi bakes.

"It is the vibes here and I prefer the mainstream food such as salmon mentaiko and not the local," she explained.

However, she cautioned others that the modern food sold at the bazaar could cost more, and visitors should prepare a budget in advance.

"Not going to lie; the food here can be overpriced, with some costing just over $12. So, make sure you see and purchase what you like only," she added.

Among the popular food stalls is EVB bistro located at Kandahar street, which sells sushi bakes – a casserole version of a sushi roll containing ingredients such as unagi, prawn and octopus with seaweed sheets and sauce.

According to Nadhirah Zilan, manager of EVB Bistro, business has been picking up since the bazaar reopened in full force recently after two years of the pandemic. They have seen an increase in sales of 20 per cent day-on-day since opening day.

Having set up a stall at the Kampong Glam bazaar for the first time, Nadhirah, 32, said she and her team are delighted to see customers of all ages, especially young ones, enjoying their food.

"We know that some customers prefer such dishes such as mentaiko based on the food trends we see, and that's why we decided on the menu as such," she elaborated.

A 23-year-old Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) student, Rabiah, also cited convenience and trendy food choices as reasons for visiting the bazaar after school. The art institution at 80 Bencoolen Street is approximately 15 minutes by bus or by train from the Kampong Glam bazaar.

"I decided to come here because it's very convenient and near my school, and I am looking forward to trying the modernised food. It's all over TikTok and Instagram, and that's one of the reasons why my friends and I are here to try," she said.

For stalls like Kayu Manis, one can get modernised traditional Malay fish cracker snacks like keropok lekor, served in various flavours. They offer options such as their chilli cheese, which comes with nacho cheese and their signature chilli sauce.

Nur Azzah Suhari, the founder, said the menu was sparked by her children's intolerance to spicy foods.

"My kids love to eat lekor, and then there was this day where they told me they could not eat the lekor with chilli because it was too spicy. So I added the cheese, and they said it was very nice."

Her menu is a hit among all ages, she told Yahoo News Singapore, noting that business is just as good as last year at the same bazaar, with more queues at her stall.

"The older ones would pick the classic lekor, but the younger ones in their 20s would go for the spicy cheese. And when fasting starts, we anticipate more crowd during the late evening."

The relaxation of the COVID-19 pandemic measures has eased customer concerns, and she added that everyone seems to be enjoying eating without having to comply with past regulations such as wearing masks.

Chilli Cheese keropok lekor is the hot favourite among the younger customers, according to Nur Azzah Suhari, the founder of Kayu Manis
Kayu Manis offer options such as their Chilli Cheese, which comes with nacho cheese and their signature chilli sauce. It is a hot favourite among the younger customers, according to founder, Nur Azzah Suhari. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore/IG/Kayumanis_jomsantap)

The evolving trends of food bazaars

Among the modern dishes sold at the bazaar is also a Vietnamese sandwich called bahn mi, which is made up of various combinations such as chicken balls, grilled lamb and thai green chilli.

Celebrity chef Shahrizal Salleh, better known as Chef Bob, has also set up a stall for the first time at the bazaar to sell this sandwich.

The 43-year-old said he was convinced by his brother to sell bahn mi, which is Chef Bob's first time doing so. He added that it is a "testing phase of what is to come", hinting that he could potentially explore more recipes on this.

Moreover, he acknowledged that bazaar food has evolved from traditional to hipster.

"Now, it's a mix of hipster and traditional, which is very good for consumers because they can taste a wide variety of foods from different cultures congregated together at one location where you can just enjoy the cuisines of the world," he elaborated.

Even with the plethora of choices, some still prefer traditional snacks such as Ramly burgers and nasi briyani, a staple of childhood and culture during Ramadan.

Nabila, a 17-year-old ITE student, said, "I think I'm more into those kinds of classics. When I was young, I've grown accustomed to eating traditional snacks like Ramly burger or briyani, which is why I always buy them."

She is not the only one. Our WoodLoft's director and events planner Muhammad Fazil has a briyani stall called Sheik Allauddin Copper Pot Biriyani just next to the Sultan Mosque, which he says is still popular with "young people and the elderly".

Fazil said, "People who love briyani and know our brand enjoy it. It's a classic. We set up here to target couples planning weddings and let them try our briyani."

However, whether you prefer modern or traditional food, the bazaar's organisers have made sure that there are food options to accommodate both tradition and trend.

In celebration of Ramadan, the bazaar also offers a range of community activities, such as a mass iftar event where community members will break their daily fasts on 1st April.

Our WoodLoft's director and events planner Muhammad Fazil is serving briyani at his stall which he says is popular with
Our WoodLoft's director and events planner Muhammad Fazil is serving briyani at his stall which he says is popular with "young crowds and even old people" (PHOTO: Bruce Lim/Yahoo News Singapore)

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