Ramadan Mubarak, folks! It’s my (and probably every Muslim’s) favourite time of the year: a time to work on our spirituality by fasting, praying and studying our religion, as well as a time to visit loved ones, hang with community and eat yummy cultural food. Which, of course, brings me to Lakemba’s Ramadan Nights market.
Ramadan Nights began as a modest barbecue stand in Lakemba and over the years has blossomed into what is probably Sydney’s most popular food festival.
Full of ethnic food stalls largely run by and for Muslims, the night market runs from dusk (usually after iftar, the evening meal Muslims eat when they break their fast) until 3am *every day* of Ramadan.
Here’s the food you HAVE to try at Lakemba’s Ramadan Night Markets. Trust me I go every year!!! #ptv #ramadan #sydneyfood
I’ve been going to Lakemba’s Ramadan Nights market for years with my family, with the place functioning as a hang out spot for thousands of Sydney Muslims. It’s the only place we have to freely (and safely) socialise until late in a space where we know heaps of people, and aren’t minorities having to contend with micro-aggressions and other anti-Muslim BS. At least, this was the case.
The markets have grown in popularity exponentially over the years, as non-Muslims discover this beautiful pocket of culture and want in. This sharing of culture and food has, unfortunately, come with an increase in racism and general disrespectful and antisocial behaviour from non-Muslims at the market.
So, in the spirit of maintaining the safety of Ramadan Nights for Muslims, and also to assist people who want to enjoy it but aren’t familiar with what is and isn’t acceptable in Muslim spaces, I’ve written up an unofficial guide on how to attend Lakemba’s Ramadan night markets as a non-Muslim without being disrespectful. Let’s get into it!
Don’t be racist.
You’d think this is a no-brainer, but nope.
Last year, I wrote about the jarring moment a white woman yelled at me to go back to where I came from while I waited in line at a food stall.
The story prompted dozens of other Muslims to reach out to me online and tell me their own heartbreaking stories, including one woman who told me she witnessed a group of white teenagers mocking the accents of South Asian men while they waited in line for Afghan food. How callous to mock the very people whose culture you are about to consume.
it’s kind of crazy that only SIX yrs ago SMH ran a story on the Islamic takeover of Lakemba (anyone rmbr “crudely islamified mannequin” lol) and now same media advertises Lakemba Ramadan night markets
— lamya (@lmy__nwr) April 15, 2022
The Lakemba night markets is one of the few places in Australia that is so unapologetically Muslim. Don’t be the asshole who ruins that for us. And if you’re there with people who are being racist, or you witness it from another group, call it out! Prove your allyship and don’t be a bystander. You accept the standard you walk past.
Don’t call unfamiliar food “gross” or “weird”
Probably one of the most common micro-aggressions (or really, is it just outright racism?) that ethnic people experience growing up in Australia is lunch time bullying, where white kids would point at ethnic food and exclaim “Ewwwww, what is that? Why does it smell so weird? That’s gross, why don’t you bring anything normal to school?”
The pattern of white people shaming immigrants’ food, then white-washing and gentrifying that same food as it becomes trendy and ~exotic~, is so common it’s been written about again and again and again.
When attending Ramadan Nights, you’re likely to come across heaps of food you aren’t familiar with or haven’t seen before: camel burgers and cheesy, syrupy knafeh are often the most interesting to newcomers.
Please don’t loudly exclaim about how weird or gross certain foods look to you just because you aren’t familiar with them — this is someone’s actual culture you’re insulting, and it’s not only pretty fkn rude, it’s a racist microaggression.
Lakemba food markets #ramadan #lakembastreetfoodfestival #lakembanights #foodmarkets #knafeh #sahlab #sydneyfood #sydneymarkets
Respect the market’s religious aspects
While Ramadan Nights is an event open for all to enjoy, it is still to mark a religious occasion and therefore is a religious event.
Last year I witnessed a few complaints from non-Muslims new to the market who felt there was “no vibe” because there was no music.
Muslims avoid music during Ramadan because the month is about deviating from material distractions to embrace worship and spirituality. There being no music is integral to it being a Ramadan event.
There’s also a mosque right next to the markets, where Muslims pray Taraweeh, a long night-time prayer done in Ramadan. Playing music while someone is praying is considered extremely disrespectful, so not blasting music is important for people to be able to worship uninterrupted.
Oh jesus I feel this. The colleague from the Northern beaches asking me when the ‘Lakemba night festival’ started because it was such a fun excursion for her family. Me wanting to scream that the Ramadan Night Markets are not for rich white folks’ tourism.
— Radhi C (@EvilLordHaha) February 5, 2022
For the love of God, please don’t bring your dog
Speaking of Ramadan Nights being a religious event, please do not treat it the same as other food markets by bringing your dog.
While many Muslims like myself love dogs and would be happy to give your pooch a cuddle in another context, it’s typically understood you do not bring them to religiously significant spaces, or events held for religious events like Ramadan.
You would never, ever bring a dog to a mosque, but there are plenty of Muslims who also wouldn’t want to be around them when they eat. And it is incredibly offensive to let your dog piss near a food stall, because dog piss is considered najis (a religious term for a specific impurity) and requires a whole cleaning ritual that you could save someone from doing if you left your dog at home.
There’s a lot of diversity in thought when it comes to contact with dogs in Islam (feel free to Google it if you want to learn more), and not every Muslim is going to feel the same way, but please just respect those who avoid dogs for religious reasons and don’t bring yours to this Islamic event.
Do try new foods and be open to new experiences
The Ramadan night markets are fun, lively and so full of new and exciting foods to try. Go in with an open mind, give every culture a chance to wow you, and chat to the people around you.
Muslims are obsessed with hosting and sharing food with others, so you’ll probably come across friendly merchants and stall holders who call to you from the street to get you to try food.
It can be overwhelming at times because of how loud and busy it is, but give the markets a chance and don’t shit on them if they don’t meet your preferences!
Do take the markets as an opportunity to learn about Islam
At the end of the day, Ramadan Nights is an Islamic event held by Muslims to socialise and share their culture during Ramadan.
If you want to enjoy the markets, don’t divorce them from their origins — embrace the religion and cultures behind such a colourful event, and get to know what it means to those around you. Reading this guide is a good start!
Well there ya have it folks. Go forth and enjoy yourselves at Ramadan Nights, respectfully and armed with cultural knowledge!