Instead of the capital's traditional iftari markets at Bailey Road and Chawkbazar, people this year are more inclined to online-based iftari buying due to the ongoing pandemic.
The usual hustle and bustle of Chawkbazar and Bailey Road, in the afternoon during Ramadan every year, is not there this year due to the restrictions imposed by the government to tackle the second wave of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of thronging the capital's traditional iftari markets, people, day by day, are becoming habituated to buying iftari online through home delivery services of different renowned restaurants.
It was observed through spot visits that food supply in the restaurant is suspended due to strict government restrictions. However, food stores are allowed to sell food parcels online. Iftar parcels are being sold online by various platforms, including iftar sellers of Bailey Road and Chawkbazar.
Due to the increasing number of online iftari buyers, various app-based home delivery service companies, including 'food panda' or 'hungry naki', for the city dwellers, have now become household names.
Shaheen and Fatema are residents of Mirpur in the capital. As both of them are working, they cannot always prepare iftar at home. Before the pandemic, they used to buy iftar on the way back home from work. This year the practice they were accustomed to got disrupted by corona, and they started relying on buying iftar online instead of directly from the market.
Due to the ongoing lockdown, the iftar market has been stagnant for almost the entire month of Ramadan.
There is almost no trade in the traditional iftar markets. Most of the iftar sales are happening online. There is no scope to break the Ramadan fast at restaurants. More and more people are buying iftar online by staying at home.
In the years before the pandemic, during Ramadan, traders used to occupy the roadside spaces even before the afternoon at Shahi Mosque area of Chawkbazar and at Bailey Road in the capital, displaying a variety of succulent traditional iftar items. With the passing of every hour, increasing numbers of people, from different parts of the city, including Old Dhaka, would flock there to buy iftar items.
The situation at Bailey Road was similar.
But this time a crowd of delivery men was seen at the Bailey Road iftar stalls. In addition to managing the buyers directly, the sellers here are busy preparing the parcels to be delivered to homes. Most of the shops here are offering home delivery of iftar.
More than 50 delivery men were found on the road during a recent visit in the afternoon, with big bags full of iftar parcels on their shoulders to be delivered to various homes.
Deliveryman Alamgir Hossain said, "Now I am starting today's round with five parcels together. In the meantime, maybe more orders will come. In short, I will deliver 10 to 15 orders before iftar. The pressure is high at this time, but fortunately the roads are empty.
Al-Amin, an employee of Nawabi Bhoj, said that every year's usually crowded iftar shopping is no more this year. "There is no iftar shop on the street. However, online iftar parcels are selling well," he said.
Iftar traders of the area said during Ramadan in earlier years, Bailey Road used to be bustling with the noise of hundreds of iftar buyers from around the city as sellers offered a good variety of traditional and modern iftar items.
But that very familiar look of the iftar market is not there anymore due to the ongoing deadly pandemic, they said.
Mohammad Ibrahim, a salesperson at Sultan's Dine, said, "We are taking orders online for iftar. If someone comes to buy iftar, we are giving him a parcel. But no one is allowed to sit here and eat. That is why most customers are buying food online."
Shahi Mosque in Chawkbazar, usually crowded with scores of people during every Ramadan before iftar, is in the grip of the lockdown, with no iftar items on the road awaiting buyers. A handful of permanent stores were seen selling iftar items. The wide range of iftar items that were seen, though, in earlier years, displayed in style, were not seen this time.
Mainul Islam, manager of Ananda Bakery, said, "Sales have declined to one-fourth compared to those before the pandemic. Not all items are selling. Many of the buyers are ordering over the phone. We are packing iftar for them."
Buyers less interested in expensive food
People are now quite reluctant to shop due to financial strains and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. And this has affected the iftar market as well. This year, demand for various fancy iftar items is very low. The small food shops are doing relatively good business.
Sabbir Ahmed, manager of the traditional Alauddin Sweetmeat in Chawkbazar, said this year demand for Chawkbazar's traditional iftar items is very low.
Chawkbazar has a reputation for iftar items but if people don't have money in their pockets, they won't come to buy them, he said.
Other popular iftar spots also affected
This picture is not only in Chawkbazar. Indeed, the corona pandemic has had the same terrible impact on iftar businesses elsewhere in the city also.
Akhter Uddin Dulal, owner of Star Kebab Dhanmondi branch, said, "I get the opportunity to sell for only three hours a day. In the meantime, people are less inclined towards fancy iftar, and buyers demand as little as possible."
Meanwhile, in the capital's restaurants and posh hotels, there used to be good iftar-centric business. It goes without saying that they did not do business this time due to the corona crisis.
Kazi Sajedul Hai, Assistant Director (Food and Beverage) of Radisson Blu Dhaka, said, "Our iftar-centric businesses are mainly corporate events. Now that business is closed, there are no corporate iftar parties this year."