Ramadan favourites flying off the shelves

Staff at Chilly Willy Trading Company have been working 24-hour cycles to ensure customers have enough supplies, especially rose water, for the holy month.

DUBAI // While the pace for most of the country slows during the holy month, for one wholesaler in Deira work has never been more frantic. The 15-strong staff at Chilly Willy Trading Company have been working around the clock for three months to ensure a sufficient supply of rose water is ready for customers to break their fast.

The rose-flavoured water is a staple ingredient in Arabic dishes and is often used in drinks at iftar such as jallab, which also contains dates, carobs, grape molasses, pine nuts and water. A spoonful or two of rose water is common in almost all of the recipes made by Ali Salem Edbowa, the executive chef at Mezlai, an Emirati-owned and operated restaurant at Emirates Palace hotel. The restaurant's iftar menu even features a rosewater dessert that is cooked with saffron, sugar, cardamom and butter.

"We use it in everything," he said. "We add it to rice, to juices, to sweets - just a spoon or two. It helps the food to retain its taste and gives a good fragrance to the dishes." "It is very popular [and] used in everything from drinks through to biryanis," said Laxman Tekchandani, Chilly Willy Trading Company's sales manager, gesturing to a 450ml plastic bottle of the clear liquid. Orders for the rose water more than tripled ahead of the holy month as Arabic families and international wholesalers made sure they were well stocked. "The customers want to order here; they want locally made products," he said.

The company launched five years ago after spotting a gap in the market for locally produced food. As well as importing products for wholesalers, it also makes its own range of tomato paste. During this time of year, it is the rose water that people want. "We sell it to wholesalers in Djibouti, Yemen, Ethiopia, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain," Mr Tekchandani said. The company's staff have been working shifts through a 24-hour cycle since May at their Jebel Ali factory.

"Normally, we sell around 3,000 bottles a month," Mr Tekchandani said. "This Ramadan, we got [orders for] more than 10,000." Rose water, or syrup, is used to flavour various food and drink such as milk and dairy products. It is also a key ingredient in a range of Arabic recipes including a drink called lassi, which is made of yoghurt, sugar and fruit juice, and it is sometimes used as a replacement for red wine in dishes.

According to local supermarkets, the sweet-scented water is among their bestsellers this month. Both Spinneys and Choithram place rose and date syrups among their top-selling Ramadan products, with a spokesman for Choithram saying its Dubai stores sell two to four times more than other months of the year. Stores in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah sell as much as eight or 10 times the normal amount, he added. @Email:loatway@thenational.ae