Flu, weak economy hurt Ramadan spending in Malaysia

Tue Sep 8, 2009 3:28am EDT
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By Loh Li Lian

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - The air is thick with smoke from the hot grills of food stalls that have sprung up in the capital city during the holy month of Ramadan, but traders complain that business is the thinnest it's been in years.

Malaysian Muslims are halfway through the month of dawn-to-dusk fasting but while crowds still throng to the stalls and bazaars to buy food and shop, a slowing economy and concerns over the H1N1 flu virus have dampened their appetite.

"We've been selling at this Ramadan bazaar for 14 years. Sales are down this year from last year. In fact, it's the worst year ever," said Zulmajdi Omar, a trader at a popular market bazaar in central Kuala Lumpur.

Zulmajdi, 29, helps his father to sell "serunding," a dry spicy meat floss made from shredded beef or chicken that is often eaten with rice or bread.

The meat floss, which requires long hours of cooking, keeps well without refrigeration and is a popular delicacy during the Eid-al Fitr celebrations which will mark the end of Ramadan.

Zulmajdi said the higher cost of ingredients has also eaten into profits.

In the next alley, two young Malay men await customers at their stall which offers a vast array of dates and cookies.

"We were still doing alright last year but this year, our sales are down about 40 percent. I think people are scared to go out because of H1N1 and they are also spending less because of the economy," said 23-year old Mohamad Tarmizi Ahmad.   Continued...

<p>Wearing face masks as a precaution against the H1N1 flu virus, Aszmy Mohamed and his wife Miriza Maarof push their 2 1/2-month-old son Amsyar Aszmy on a stroller as they shop at a Ramadan bazaar in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur, September 7, 2009. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad</p>