Under a net of silver confetti, 33-year-old Wasim lays out a platter of five different kinds of pakora around five every evening. As he waits for customers, often waving his red keffiyeh over the snacks, he is sure of one thing. The sun will set on another day of Ramzan but not without bringing him a fortune. Soon, his pakoras are over as locals gather food for iftar while visitors gorge on the golden brown crispies for as less as Rs 5 per piece.
Though most eateries stay shut during the day in Old Delhi as people observe a fast from dawn to dusk, food business turns more lucrative in this month. Restaurants serve food all night, traders rent out space to sewaiyyan and date sellers and temporary food stalls spring up all over during this time.
“The owner of a nearby restaurant has rented out his shop to dry-fruit dealers. A tea shop is now selling sewaiyyan, khajla and pheni (Ramzan delicacies). For sehri, it also serves a bowl full of pheni or sewaiyyan soaked in milk,” said Akram Qureshi, president of the Matia Mahal Traders’ Association and owner of Al-Jawahar Restaurant.
These traders sell sewaiyyan either from the wholesale market of Khari baoli or manufacturers in Seelampur and Inderlok. They would make a profit of ` 2-3 lakh this month, a trader said. Nearby, a tour operator followed the trend extending his shop to sell sewaiyyan for the time being.
Qureshi estimated that at least 25,000 people come to Jama Masjid every day and many of them end their roza in Old Delhi. The hustle-bustle begins after the Zuhr namaaz (afternoon prayer). As the Asr namaaz (evening prayer) approaches, the activities are at its peak.
Traders ensure variety in both price and quality. Dates, which are considered auspicious for breaking the fast and are available at every corner of market, are imported from as far as Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Oman, and Egypt. But the major supply comes from Iran and Saudi Arabia. Nearly six varieties are sold in the Walled city markets. Zahadi, Kimiya, Madjool, Safawai, Maryam and Ajwa are among the favourites.
“The sale of Zahadi is higher as it is the cheapest. It is available for as low as ` 60-80 per kg. Kimiya is next in demand as it is soft and non-sticky,” said Qasim, a vendor in Ballimaran area. Dates are imported by big dealers in the Khari Baoli and Azadpur wholesale markets.
“Nearly 40 per cent of the yearly sales comes from the month of Ramzan as the consumption and demand is higher this time. North India occupies 30 per cent market of dates. Ajwa is the costliest product because this variety is known to have been preferred by Prophet Mohammad. In Delhi, majority of supply arrives from Iran and Mecca and Medina,” said Sudeep Mishra of Focusale in Azadpur Mandi.
The festivities generate employment for many small-time workers in the neighbourhood. Many of them take a break from their employers and start vending pakoras and sewaiyyan. “We recently facilitated for 10-12 people who wanted to start vending in the area and arranged police permission for them. These are low-income group people who earn enough to celebrate Eid. They sell dates, skull caps and pakora. This holy month brings Barkat,” Qureshi said.
Mohd Shaan, owner of the 76-year-old Kallan Sweets, said workers arrive from neighbouring states, especially UP, during this time. He has engaged six extra persons to cope up with the work pressure of cooking 30-40 kilograms of pakoras and samosas every day.