ISLAMABAD: Despite countrywide lockdowns closing the doors to some of Islamabad's most sought-after restaurants, Arab cuisine has remained a staple during Ramadan and as Eid meals for the capital’s food lovers, restaurant owners said.
Many Middle Eastern eateries have been staying afloat by delivering food to people’s doorsteps as government-imposed restrictions stop people from gathering in enclosed spaces like restaurants.
With a dedicated delivery service, Arz Lebanon, a medium-sized joint in Islamabad’s upscale Jinnah Super Market has been busy catering to a growing roster of home delivery orders with an exclusive Iftar menu which includes over 12 different dishes.
“We have made Ramadan package this year with a small menu of 12 Arab dishes,” Sheikh Abdul Rauf, the chief chef of Arz Lebanon told Arab News.
“Our famous dishes include mix Arab barbeque, hummus, fatosh, tabbouleh, cheese manakish and harbora,” he added, hinting at the popular cravings of Islamabad’s food lovers.
He said a lot of regular customers, both Arabs and Pakistanis, had been calling and requesting meals from Arz Lebanon during Ramadan and on Eid.
The restaurant is among a list of eateries that remained closed for almost a month and a half of lockdowns. Quite a few still remain closed including popular attractions like Serai Bistro situated in the capital’s diplomatic enclave – serving Lebanese, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food – as well as the ever popular Iranian food joint, Omar Khayyam.
“Before COVID-19, the staff at my restaurant was 45 [people]. Now I am working with only seven employees to maintain social distancing,” Rauf said, and added that disinfectant spray was used on the entire staff before commencing work and their body temperatures checked through a thermal scanner several times in a single day.
“We are serving only takeaways and home delivery orders. I am getting around 70 delivery orders daily which is 20 percent more than usual days,” Rauf said.
“Most of my Arab customers order home delivery these days. We have three vans for this purpose,” he added.
Another big attraction for the residents of the city is the Syrian ‘Shawarma Guy’ located in the F-10 Markaz area-- with shawarmas prepared in authentic Arab style by Abu Amir aka Adnan who came to Pakistan in 2011 after fleeing the complex civil war in his homeland.
“My major dish is shawarma and sheesh taouq while in Ramadan I also started serving basbousa, kunafa and baklava,” Amir told Arab News.
Amir said the pandemic had adversely affected his business but that home delivery had exponentially increased during Ramadan.
“I used to sell around 450 shawarmas daily before the pandemic but now the number has reduced. On the other hand, requests for home deliveries increased from around 30 orders earlier to approximately 100 nowadays,” he said.
Another home delivery option in the same area is Al-Beirut Kitchen which provides only home delivery services for Lebanese and Arab food.
“We are providing home delivery only and that also by ensuring all precautions. Our customers are very loyal as we are delivering for the past two decades in Islamabad,” Ahmad Shabbir, the restaurant manager told Arab News.
“Business got better in the second half of Ramadan after re-opening of markets,” he added.