The price of a coconut is up by a quarter, buffets to break the fast are now a luxury and “air-filled curry puffs” are the wry talk of the bazaar as Malaysian Muslims marking Ramadan curb their spending amid surging food costs being passed onto customers. More than 20 million Muslims in Malaysia are observing the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which began on Thursday. Principally a month of spirituality and reflection, during which devout Muslims abstain from food and water from sunrise to sunset, Ramadan is also a time when food bazaars sprout up around the country, drawing in those on the hunt for local delicacies. But this year growing numbers are staying away from these Ramadan bazaars, or only looking rather than buying, citing surging prices and the declining quality of food as stallholders make savings by using cheaper produce or reluctantly raising prices. “I picked up cooking during the lockdown, so now everything here feels expensive,” said Safira Naim, an accountant who visited the popular Kampung Baru bazaar, near the iconic Petronas Twin Towers in downtown Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. “I’m just here to soak in the atmosphere, this is the first day of Ramadan after all.” The ever-increasing cost of food at the bazaar over the years has led to the trope of the “air-filled curry puffs”, with sellers reducing the filling inside the pastries in a rude surprise to buyers breaking fast at sundown. Worse still are sellers who sell spoiled food, whether knowingly or not, to unsuspecting buyers. However, the majority of stallholders are just trying to get by after years missed to the pandemic and now an inflation crisis driven by the war in Ukraine . Fried egg, rice and a glass of water: inflation hits school meals in Malaysia Pressured by the rising cost of raw materials and facing stiff competition just for a spot at these bazaars, food entrepreneur Farhan Yassin from the town of Klang, west of Kuala Lumpur, said he was feeling the pinch. “The cost is definitely more than the previous year,” said Farhan, whose family sells dodol , a sweet toffee-like sugar palm-based confection, as well as an assortment of bite-sized snacks known collectively as kuih . The price of coconuts, a key ingredient in many sweet and savoury Malaysian dishes, has shot up by a quarter to around 2 ringgit (45 US cents) each, practically erasing Farhan’s profit margins unless he passes the price increase onto customers. “I now have to import from Indonesia to get the old price, otherwise I have to pay the new price to local suppliers,” he said. Food-related items continue to go up at a fast pace with January standing at 6.7 per cent year on year Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid, economist The tradition of breaking fast at Ramadan buffets at hotels, which can cost 200 ringgit (US$45) per person, has also fallen victim to rising prices, with many now seeing it as unnecessary expenditure. Overall January inflation in Malaysia was 3.7 per cent, according to government data, but food has outpaced that rise. “Food-related items continue to go up at a fast pace, with January standing at 6.7 per cent year on year versus the national level,” Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid, head of economics, market analysis and social finance at Bank Muamalat, told This Week in Asia. The government has introduced schemes to manage the cost of meals out , such as the 5-ringgit Menu Rahmah and the recently announced people’s income initiative. “When more food is sold at lower prices … there will be competition to alleviate the increase in prices of prepared food and food away from home in the upcoming months,” Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli said at a January event. Economist Yeah Kim Leng, recently appointed as an adviser to the Finance Ministry, said the ongoing banking crisis in the US had done nothing to ease inflationary pressures, but he detected seeds of hope in Malaysia’s economic trajectory. “Nevertheless, the continuing – though moderating – growth and declining unemployment level coupled with fiscal support for households in [this year’s budget] are expected to lift spending higher than the previous year,” he said. Eid sticker shock Ramadan ends in Malaysia with Hari Raya Aidilfitri, or Eid ul-Fitr, a huge holiday and shopping festival for which the Malay-Muslim community buys new traditional clothes every year to celebrate. Some higher-end local brands have raised their prices to around 500 ringgit for a dress, compared to the 300-odd ringgit price tag from previous years. “For me, it’s still okay, but I wonder how those who earn less cope,” said Siti Saerah, an executive at a multinational corporation in Kuala Lumpur. According to her, a complete Eid ensemble comprising hijab, dress and accessories can cost around 1,000 ringgit. 7 dishes Oscar-winner Michelle Yeoh craves when she visits her mum in Malaysia On Malaysia’s vibrant social media, many are experiencing sticker shock over the prices. “I saw the price of an Eid dress today, it’s as much as that of a flight ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching,” said Atiqah Najwa, referring to the capital city of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo – a two-hour flight away – in a reality check for the 3 million Malaysians who tend to return home during the festival.