Ramadan 2020: how a Dubai restaurant now serves 400 free meals a day

An Indian restaurateur in Dubai, an Emirati in Abu Dhabi's suburbs and a Pakistani volunteer join forces to feed hundreds of residents in need

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At a restaurant tucked away in Oud Metha in Dubai, five chefs are hard at work over a hot stove.

One stirs chillies and onions as they fry gently in a pan. Another chops and prepares fresh vegetables as rice simmers in a pot.

Three hours later, the tireless staff of Des Pardes Restaurant are ready to feed 400 people.

But instead of serving paying customers, staff at the Pakistani restaurant cater to those affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.

"Every single morning I wake up at 9am with some new numbers on my phone with messages saying 'I have lost my job' or 'I came here on a visitor visa looking for a job, I don't have money'," co-owner Sohaib Ali Khan, 30, told The National.

Des Pardes means home far away from home and so that's what we give

"I tell them to come to my restaurant.”

Des Pardes is among dozens of restaurants in the city that provide free meals to those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

The restaurants operate thanks to a network of volunteers who have united during a time of upheaval.

In late March, the Dubai government ordered restaurants to close to stem the spread of Covid-19, with only deliveries allowed.

Des Pardes lost 80 per cent of its customer base and to do a good deed Mr Khan offered food to those in need.

A few weeks ago, his friend suggested he call Aamer Abdulkhaleq, an Emirati from Khalifa City A.

Mr Abdulkhaleq, 30, founded a small social media group connecting volunteers who wanted to help those in trouble.

The group became UAE Relief, an organisation whose 80 volunteers made 200 grocery and meal deliveries in its first week.

Thanks to them, Des Pardes has expanded its delivery range from Dubai and Sharjah to Ajman and Umm Al Quwain.

It is not only volunteers who make it happen. Mr Khan receives private donations that enable him to feed people in need.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Anna Zacharias: Owners Mohammed Hingora (purple) and Sohaib Ali Khan (black top) with their staff. Scores of restaurants are doing food handouts to those hit by corona virus economics. A popular Pakistani restaurant Des Pardes in Oud Metha is one of them. Monday, April 13th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Staff at Dubai's Des Pardes Restaurant prepare meals for those in need. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“Des Pardes means home far away from home and so that’s what we give," said Mr Khan, an Indian citizen born in Dubai.

"We give home food to Pakistani and Indian people far away from their home."

During Ramadan, it is customary in the Gulf for people to make large, anonymous donations to neighbourhood restaurants to send to local mosques for iftar.

The spirit of Ramadan came early this year.

In these difficult times, restaurants such as Des Pardes are a lifeline for many people who call the Gulf home.

Mr Khan ensures meals get to those who need it most, wherever they are.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: N/A: A gentleman crosses an empty street in Oud Metha while wearing a facemask due to the Corona outbreak. Monday, April 13th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Oud Metha in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

He said he needed Dh4.95 to prepare a vegetarian meal of dal and Dh7 for chicken biryani, served with bread, laban and water.

“Thanks to God, people have joined in and people have wanted to contribute. I cannot give to each and every household,” Mr Khan said.

One volunteer is Syed Taha, who delivers meals to the heart of Ajman.

After his office job was suspended, the Pakistani resident dedicated himself full time to his neighbourhood, making deliveries and working late into the night to find out who needed what.

“We have so many poor people and my neighbours are my responsibility,” Mr Taha, who is from Karachi, said.

“If my neighbour is in need, I want to fulfil their need. That’s why I take steps to help these people.”

In Ajman, physical distancing measures are not always followed as strictly as they are in Dubai, where people were not permitted to leave home without a permit and the roads are empty.

Al Bustan is Ajman’s old town and its lanes, alleys and villas are more crowded than usual.

Humairah Naved, 32, is among a small group who wait every day for Mr Taha in Al Bustan at sunset.

After losing her job at a sales centre, she relies on food parcels to feed her husband and toddler.

“It’s a tough time for us,” Ms Naved, who is from Pakistan, said.

“I don’t want to go back home to Pakistan because I’ll maybe continue my job later this year.

"We are not able to pay our rent and we don’t have any income for food.”

Her family wants to stay in the Emirates. Thanks to a serving of Ramadan kindness, hope remains.