SINGAPORE: Organisers of the Geylang Serai Ramadan bazaar said on Thursday (Mar 28) that most of the stalls in this year's edition will sell traditional goods related to Hari Raya and the Malay culture, and that all the food stalls will be required to sell food suitable for Muslim visitors.
Main coordinator Wisma Geylang Serai said 60 per cent of food stalls must sell traditional Malay food, while the remaining may offer "contemporary" or "hipster" options.
These stalls are also required to be either Muslim-owned, certified halal by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) or fulfil a halal criteria set by consultants engaged by the bazaar organisers.
Meanwhile, 80 per cent of non-food stalls will sell goods associated with the festive season, while 20 per cent will offer other lifestyle items.
The move follows feedback from visitors about the “hipsterisation” of the annual Ramadan mega-event.
Briefing journalists on the same day about what to expect at the bazaar, mayor of South East District Dr Maliki Osman said: “A larger percentage of the stalls will have to be featuring goods that are related to Hari Raya and we have included this specification for the vendors.
“The feedback we have been getting is that (visitors) want that nostalgic feeling … It’s something that we are responding to and if what comes back is something that people like, that’s something we want moving forward,” added Dr Maliki, who is also Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs.
The Geylang Serai Bazaar is organised annually in conjunction with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Slated to run from May 3 to Jun 5, this year's bazaar will be the first one fully coordinated by Wisma Geylang Serai, a Malay-Muslim social and cultural heritage hub.
Last year's edition was jointly coordinated by Wisma Geylang Serai together with the Kembangan–Chai Chee and Geylang Serai grassroots organisations.
The 2019 Geylang Serai bazaar will be organised thematically, said Dr Maliki.
For example, there will be an area demarcated for the sale of traditional Malay kueh and a separate location with container-style shops for modern goods.
Dr Maliki stressed that this is an experiment to operate the bazaar in a “more coordinated approach”.
“People will go to different corners (to buy the goods) that they want. Those who want to go to the corner (selling traditional Malay goods) can go there to get the nostalgic feel and those who want the hipster experience (can do the same),” he said.
While the bazaar will have a higher proportion of traditional goods, Dr Maliki emphasised that the event must continue to provide opportunities for young entrepreneurs. Organisers of subsequent editions “should try to accommodate” too if there is an appetite for more of such offerings.
“If at the end of Ramadan this year, we collate all the feedback, and … (visitors) think that 80-20 (ratio for non-food items) is too much and they want it 50-50, than we will see accordingly. But having been in this for a long time, we all know that we cannot please everybody at one go,” he said.
Dr Maliki also shared that the upcoming bazaar has been awarded to two operators – Orange Travel and Enniche Global Trading.
PRACTICAL CONCERNS WITH SERVING KUEH, NASI PADANG
Founder of Orange Travel, Mr Syah Ibrahim, highlighted during the briefing that there are some practical concerns with offering certain types of traditional Malay food at the bazaar, especially given the warm weather.
“Many years ago, we talked about all the traditional kueh, the koleh-koleh, the puteri salat and how those received the highest complaints of food turning bad, when it came to break fast time,” he said.
"We eradicated that because we felt that it was not practical. With the temperature under the tentage, there is no way that kueh will survive. Unless you do it distastefully with less eggs, less coconut milk, but then there will be complaints of the quality,” added the former Mediacorp DJ.
He also explained that serving nasi padang would "not be doable" because vendors typically open until late night, and the mixed rice and gravy would not last.
"It's the fried foods that are practical for the vendor, who will be able to stay open all the way until 1am," he said.
FOOD MUST BE "SUITABLE" FOR MUSLIMS
During the briefing, Dr Maliki also reiterated that all food sold at the upcoming bazaar must be suitable for Muslim visitors.
He said that for food stalls that are Muslim-owned, the owners are responsible for ensuring that the products are halal.
For the other food stalls, Dr Maliki acknowledged that getting the halal certification from MUIS can be an onerous process for “small stalls” and that they can instead work with the halal consultants to ensure that ingredients and equipment fulfil the requirements.
“So in this regard, it’s the consultants who will have the credentials to say that these particular stalls meet the requirements,” he said.
Dr Maliki added that the consultants will conduct frequent checks on the stalls to ensure that they continue to comply with the halal requirements for the duration of the bazaar.
RENTAL COSTS CAPPED AT S$14,000
Dr Maliki also announced that the rental costs will be capped at S$14,000 this year following complaints in previous years. Vendors in 2018 paid up to S$20,000, while those in 2017 paid up to S$15,000.
“Because it is sizably less than last year’s rental, we really hope it will translate to reasonable pricing of the goods being sold,” Dr Maliki said.
The year's edition will feature about 500 stalls, fewer than last year. Dr Maliki outlined that this would translate to more space between stalls, a larger dining space and wider walkways for crowds.
In 2018, the Geylang Serai Bazaar saw 1.86 million visitors, of which 76 per cent were locals, said Dr Maliki.