It’s the eve of Hari Raya Puasa and what a different Hari Raya it’s going to be this year! With circuit breaker measures still in place in Singapore, this year’s Hari Raya celebrations are going to be somewhat muted and subdued. There will be no congregating with fellow devotees at the mosque for traditional takbir prayers and none of the usual feasting and gathering with family and friends that make the occasion so meaningful to Muslims in Singapore and around the region.
Circuit breaker notwithstanding, however, Hari Raya must still be celebrated (albeit in a quieter way) with, among other things, the cooking of those special once-a-year dishes that every family associates with the occasion. I had a chat with multi-disciplinary artist Ezzam Rahman a few days ago to find out what he has been up to during the circuit breaker period, what this year’s Hari Raya is going to be like for him and his family and – most importantly – got him to share his mum Rosnah Ibrahim’s recipe for Daging Satay Goreng or Fried Beef Satay:
When we think of satay, we generally think of grilled meat on a stick. However, as Ezzam explained, it just isn’t practical for flat-dwellers like his family to make traditional satay over a charcoal grill. This recipe, however, incorporates all the delicious flavours of satay without the smoke and mess! His mum, home chef extraordinaire Rosnah Ibrahim, has been making this fried satay dish since Ezzam was in primary school and, as she only makes it on special occasions like birthdays and Hari Raya, it is a dish that the whole family looks forward to enjoying this time of year.
Ezzam does most of the marketing and grocery-shopping for his family and is really proud of his ability to haggle and ferret out the best deals (“I’m a total auntie!”). He and his brothers also help with all the kitchen prep, sitting around the dining table together while his mum directs operations. The actual cooking, however, is still done by Madam Rosnah herself, with the help of her able assistant Ezzam.
I asked Ezzam how this Hari Raya is going to be different for him and his family and how he feels about it all. Like the devoted son that he is, his first thoughts are about his mother and how she is adjusting to the challenging situation. And his answer is,
“Mum is adjusting very well! In fact, she has been reminding her relatives to stay home and not to have large gatherings over Hari Raya. I am so proud of her!”
His thoughts take a reflective turn as he muses that the COVID-19 pandemic and circuit breaker, while challenging, has had some positive side effects: “A quieter Ramadhan has helped us to reflect more and become more aware of its true significance. Mum has more time for herself and gets to pray more. I have hardly gone out at all during the fasting month and so I have been able to spend more time with her. It is normally quite difficult for us to have dinner together as a family, as we all lead busy lives, but we have been able to do that during this time.” Some of the most meaningful traditions of Hari Raya remain – Ezzam says that his mother has always taught him and his brothers to be generous and, though they won’t be able to see their close relatives in person, they have transferred some money gifts as tokens of their love and respect during this Hari Raya season, which is, after all, a season of giving.
When asked about the impact of the pandemic on his artistic practice, Ezzam said that, like everyone else in the arts community, he has had his fair share of cancelled gigs, including performance festivals in Japan and Italy that he had been particularly looking forward to. On the other hand, when the circuit breaker happened, there was also a sudden flurry of activity as various online art events and exhibitions were organised. He confessed to feeling some internal pressure and a sense of urgency to create work and to accept invitations to participate. While he has enjoyed all the online events that he has participated in and is grateful for the opportunity to connect with artists, curators and art audiences (a support system that he sorely misses) he has also had time, during this circuit breaker, to reflect a little and to ask himself, “Is busy always good?” This article, in particular, has given him plenty of food for thought and to question how this experience will impact on his art-making.
“I have always created works that explore the human psyche and emotion. My works are often about loneliness and loss. In our current situation, everyone is grieving. We have lost an unidentifiable something – but we are not quite sure what it is, exactly. That is the part that I am very much interested in exploring.”