Food & Beverage

Candyfloss burritos and rainbow bagels: Here's where hipster meets Ramadan

Key Points
  • Instead of traditional dishes, hipster food is all the rage at a Singapore market celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
A rainbow bagel burger by WORD, a Singapore-based cafe.

Color-changing drinks, liquid nitrogen dessert and gourmet marshmallows — fare for a music concert or the Muslim holy month of Ramadan? It may be unconventional, but in Singapore, hipster food crazes are all the rage during the Islamic celebration.

Every year, a mega market pops up on the island nation in honor of the month-long Ramadan period, in which Muslims typically fast from dawn to sunset. The bazaar sells all the necessary preparations for festivities, such as lights, traditional clothes and carpets, but its food offerings are the biggest draw.

Grilled meats, rich gravies, jellies and densely baked cakes are traditional Ramadan dishes in Southeast Asia, and while they remain prevalent in the market, they now share the stage with rainbow-hued confections and fantastical fusion snacks — key pillars of hipster food.

"In the (Geylang Serai) bazaar, there has always been a lot of focus on trending food and new combinations," said Yushendra Jalil, a vendor selling anchan tea — a multi-layered Thai drink that changes color when stirred.

Singapore is well known as a foodie's paradise, with its rich tradition of multi-cultural street treats, but cutthroat competition has food and beverage operators constantly vying for customers' attention.

The Dragon's Breath — a dessert of crackers, meringue and puffed cereal tossed in liquid nitrogen.
Nyshka Chandran | CNBC

With average monthly rents at the bazaar ranging from 14,000 to 17,000 Singapore dollars ($10,000 to $12,000), stall operators are doing all they can to stay afloat — and that includes taking advantage of trends popular among a certain set of millennials, particularly the unicorn phenomenon.

After Starbucks' Unicorn Frappuccino launched to great acclaim in April, businesses around the world are increasingly jazzing up foodstuffs with multicolored dye to draw in youth and encourage photo sharing on social media. In other words: free publicity.

And while many bemoan the lack of more traditional offerings, the sheer array of treats has turned the market into a popular destination, drawing both foreigners and locals from all walks of life.

"The older generation complains about the hipster food but I think it's a good thing, it brings people together," said a 17-year old by the name of Prince Shawn. "Yes, it isn't what it used to be but that's Singapore for you."

A look around the bazaar seems to confirm the direction toward "Instagrammable" food: There are rainbow bagel burgers, candyfloss burritos, milkshakes with blue-pink-purple swirls and a sparkly drink called Unicorn Tears that gives off a swirling glitter effect when shaken. Then there's Dragon's Breath, smoke-emitting cereal and biscuit balls that are doused in liquid nitrogen.

June 2017: A view of Singapore's Geylang Serai neighborhood Ramadan bazaar.
Nyshka Chandran | CNBC

"People love taking pictures of their food, especially if it's bright and colorful," said Jalil.

Rainbows aside, fusion combinations such as pandan-flavored fried milk, churros with chili crab sauce, chocolate kebabs and salted egg marshmallows were also featured at this year's bazaar.

"The market keeps getting more diverse, the offerings are more varied every year. People always want to try the 'in' thing," said Ahmed Zulkamal, co-founder of Carnivori, a takeout and delivery service specializing in cheese steaks and chili fries. Zulkamal, who's been at the bazaar for years, says he initially started by selling ice pops and has kept adding to the menu every year to attract crowds.

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