Ramadan Season Tests Restaurants` Gear

On a cloudy afternoon in the ninth month of the Islamic Calender, a.k.a Ramadan, or in the middle of the Gregorian one, at Mickey Leland Avenue behind Atlas Hotel, several cars are parked in front of a two-storey villa.

The establishment is Bait Al Mandi Restaurant, where people are rushing to in pairs or in groups. Inside, they gather around a cleanly set table with spoons and forks, to begin the Iftar – a feast to break a fast that stretches dawn to sunset.

Sarah Yousuf, early 30s, is the manager of the restaurant. As the evening starts, her job gets harder and she is busy overseeing the chefs in the kitchen and the waiters in the dining room.

“The restaurant is open for service most of the year, but in Ramadan, it opens in the afternoon,” says Sarah. “We have been doing this since our establishment a decade ago.”

The customers are local as well as non-nationals, and by the time it is 6:30pm, the dining hall is full and lively with chit-chats and laughter.

“The restaurant could accommodate up to 300 people. Customers can be turned away when all the tables are occupied,” says Seid Ahmed, a loyal customer of the eatery for the past eight years.

He comes to the restaurant at least ones a week, but when it is Ramadan, he comes every day. His favourite dish for Iftar is Shifot – prepared using the flatbread injera, yoghurt, tomatoes, onions and spices.

Most people break the fast with dates and water and move on to barley soup, biscuits, or samosas as appetisers. The main dishes at the eatery include meat, fishes and chicken, with juices for drinks before dessert is served.

Restaurants that give Iftar service though continue to cope, sometimes by introducing varieties to their dishes.

A similar ritual takes place at Reem Restaurant, in the Bole district around Millennium Hall, that opened its doors in 2008. It has a second branch around Lem Hotel, on the road to Megenagna.

The owner of the restaurant, Muna Ali, manages the restaurant with her younger brother, Seid Ali. The establishment contains Majlis – an Arabic term meaning a place for sitting – that can accommodate up to a hundred people where meals can be ordered.

The same hall, in addition to its purpose for Ramadan, is used for special gatherings such as weddings and meetings, where reservations can include buffets.

Some of the Reem’s special recipes are meat, chicken and rice. Meals can cost up to 390 Br. Starters, which many customers say are important to ease the stomach into the main dish straight from day-long fasting, cost 150 Br.

“Up to 80 people come for Iftar, but it is much more on Saturdays and Sundays – we call it family day – with many visiting us with their families,” said Muna.

Around 65pc of the customers hail from Merkato and Piassa and most come in groups, according to Muna.

The Ramadan season comes at a time when food inflation has been climbing. It stood at 16.1pc in April, having declined from 20pc the month before, but far higher than its average of 10pc for the past half a decade.

Cost of rice increased from 37 Br to 80 Br a kilo. Wheat flour, used for making bread and samosas, doubled from its 1,400 Br a quintal price. Cooking oil and fuel gases are in short supply.

In contrast to businesses such as restaurants that give Iftar service, there is a slowdown going on in parts of the city.

“Businesses is so slow that it is almost hopeless and I think about quitting,” Muna says.

Restaurants that give Iftar service though continue to cope, sometimes by introducing varieties to their dishes.

One of these is Nahla Restaurant, located off China & Ethiopia Friendship Avenue, commonly known as Wollo Sefer, which has been in the business for a little more than a decade.

The manager is Ambaw Kebede, and he is proud of the fact that the establishment is one of the first to introduce Arabian Cuisines into city restaurant menus. They have non-national customers mainly from China as well as Arabian countries.

Similar to that of Beit Al Mendi, Nahla started the Iftar service along with the inception of the restaurant. Their menus for starters are similar, with little to no difference when it comes to prices.

In the Ramadan season, the restaurant provides service to over a hundred customers daily. One of these is Abdulkadir Abdullahi, who for the past half a decade has been a frequent customer. A project coordinator in a non-governmental organisation (NGO), he comes with friends a minimum of three times a week and brings his family members on weekends.

His favourite recipe during Iftar is Ma’soub, an Arabian dish that has honey, bread, banana and pudding, and sets him back around 100 Br. He is also a fan of the Burm’a which consists of mutton stew, rice and bread, costing around 200 Br.

“The restaurant has customers from Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Somalia in significant numbers,” said Ambaw, “because they like the flavour of the food and the homie feeling of the restaurant.”

The dishes at Nahla can sometimes get as high as 400 Br, the most expensive being a traditional food consisting of meat cooked in steam.

In contrast to businesses such as restaurants that give Iftar service, there is a slowdown going on in parts of the city.

Alazar Ahmed, a marketing expert, believes that the fasting season for the 25 million followers of Islam, according to the national census over a decade ago, does affect the business environment.

“Movement can be restricted to mosques, and they will not spend on recreation, affecting the general economic behaviour,” Alazar says. “A good example of this is Merkato – one of the biggest marketplaces in Africa – where many retailers close their shops early at around noon.”




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