Photo credit: Youth.SG/Yasira Hannan

Why I think the Geylang Serai Bazaar lost its old charm

The annual bazaar seems to be steering us away from tradition.

Yasira Hannan
Yasira Hannan

Published: 23 May 2018, 12:00 AM

Ramadan is easily my favourite time of the year. As Muslims, we get an entire month to give back and abstain from hunger and ill-actions.

It is also the time for spending quality time with loved ones. For some, it includes visiting the annual Geylang Serai Bazaar.

I used to love going to these month-long bazaars when I was a kid. Nothing brought me more joy than running up and down the long stretch of stalls selling traditional clothes, carpets, and henna. It was a place for us Malays and Muslims to express our cultural identity through food.

But if you have been to the Geylang Serai Bazaar in recent years, you will notice that it has not been the same. When I dropped by the bazaar last week, I was looking forward to the familiar sights and smells of my childhood.

What greeted me instead was a soulless, overcrowded market.

With the sudden influx of "hipster" street food, has the bazaar steered away from what it used to be? Video credit: Youth.SG/Aini Ali & Joey Yeo

When I was younger, the bustling bazaar was always lined with booths selling authentic, well-loved Malay dishes, such as dendeng (grilled meat), ayam percik (marinated grilled chicken) and air katira (pandan-flavoured beverage with basil seeds). These seasonal treats were what made the market so great in the first place.

But gone are the days of satays and Ramly burgers. In its place are rainbow-coloured treats, overpriced western fusion fare, and fancy decorations.

Our traditional cuisine, a reflection of our culture and heritage, is being taken over by these hipster food trends.


Some of the new inventions in this year’s bazaar include meatballs and colorful drinks in buckets.
Photo credit: Youth.SG/Joey Yeo


Forking out $10 for a bucket of meatballs does not seem to justify its small portion and subpar taste. It almost seems like these eye-catching edibles serve no other purpose than creating hype on social media and riding on hashtags like #foodporn.

This year’s Geylang Serai Bazaar also falls short in its atmosphere. I found it hard to immerse myself in its festive vibes and bustling atmosphere.

Instead of Hari Raya tunes blaring on the speakers, you’ll hear the latest EDM single from Calvin Harris.


The bazaar no longer feels like a celebration of the holy month, but an exploitation of the tradition for sales.
Photo credit: Youth.SG/Joey Yeo


While I agree that we should innovate and reinvent the bazaar to keep up with the changing times, it is increasingly hard for me to appreciate the bazaar for what it is now.

It is sad to see how the Geylang Serai Bazaar has been reduced to gimmicks and trends to cater to the masses. The growing mainstream appeal and rising rental costs are some tell-tale signs of the market being modernised.

Although it is always exciting to see others of different races and backgrounds enjoying our tradition, we mustn’t forget the true meaning of the Geylang Serai Bazaars.

The bazaar, to me, is a representation of my culture and a symbol of the fellowship of my community. These are the things that I wish others could see and experience.

But will I ever get the experience the festive vibes that I used to experience from these bazaars?

Perhaps we could, once we find that sweet balance between honouring our tradition and embracing these trends as they come and go.


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