Food business sizzling again

Hot item: An ayam madu trader grilling the marinated pieces of chicken at a Ramadan bazaar in front of Angsana mall in Bandar Baru Uda, Johor Baru. — THOMAS YONG/The Star

IT IS that time of year again when rows and rows of stalls selling varieties of delicacies, clothing and other festive paraphernalia fill the streets of the towns and cities in Johor.

This year, 13,000 stall lots for Ramadan and Hari Raya Aidilfitri bazaars have been allocated at over 200 locations statewide.

The first day of Ramadan, which fell on March 23, was a public holiday in the state.

Since it coincided with the Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar’s birthday, the state government declared a replacement holiday on March 26, which was a Sunday.

The bazaars were crowded as most folk took advantage of the long weekend holiday.

In Johor Baru, traders at the Bandar Baru Uda Ramadan bazaar spoke about the festive atmosphere this year, coping with the spike in raw material prices, and businesses recovering after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mohammad Dennie Mazlan, 30, said business had been great this year with the number of customers matching pre-pandemic times.

“Although our border with Singapore was open during Ramadan last year with no Covid-19 restrictions, many people avoided going to the bazaar for fear of being infected.

“This year, people have more confidence to enjoy visiting the bazaar, and business has been going well for me.

“It has only been a week since Ramadan started, we already see a good crowd. I believe the numbers will increase as Hari Raya Aidilfitri draws closer.

“The long weekend last week may have also helped to boost the number of visitors as families took advantage of the holidays to spend more time at the bazaars,” he said.

Mohammad Dennie who offers ayam tembikar (chicken roasted in a claypot), is now able to sell between 100 and 150 chickens a day, compared to only about 60 last year.

“Although the prices of raw ingredients have gone up, the ayam tembikar price has been maintained at RM30 for a whole chicken and RM16 for half a chicken.

“It was not an easy decision to make as this means that we have to absorb the extra cost. However, after thinking about it, we decided to maintain the price as customer satisfaction is more important to us,” he said.

On the supply of chickens, he has not experienced any shortage as he gets them from a relative.

Trader Siti Fatimah Sarudin, 34, was surprised to see such a large crowd in the first week of Ramadan, and found that it was significantly better compared to 2022.

“I expected a large crowd last year as the border had just reopened back then, but business was pretty slow.

“This year, since the prices of goods have increased so much, I initially thought people would not be too keen on buying food at Ramadan bazaars,” she said.

The cempedak goreng seller said she had to increase the price of the snack as the cost of essential ingredients such as oil, sugar, eggs and flour had gone up.

“Even the price of jackfruit has gone up almost double this year.

“So, I really have no choice but to adjust the price,” she said.

Siti Fatimah now sells a packet of cempedak goreng, with either seven or 14 pieces (depending on the size), for RM15, up from RM12.50 last year.

Apart from the challenge of getting her supply of jackfruit, she also faces difficulties in getting part-time workers.

“I used to get one tonne of jackfruit every week throughout Ramadan, but this year I can no longer get that amount,” she said.

She fears having to close her stall temporarily if the supply does not arrive on time.

“Workers too are demanding high salary. The price of the food may be increased further to cope with the extra expenses,” said Siti Fatimah, who runs the business with her husband and some help from her 10-year-old daughter.

Trader Muhammad Ikhwan Osman, 32, said the wet weather had put a damper on the expected crowds at the bazaar.

Continuous rain over the past week had affected sales and he hoped to see more people at the bazaar in the weeks to come.

“During Ramadan last year, many people withdrew money from their Employees Provident Fund which allowed them to spend more at the bazaars.

“Although I have yet to see a significant spike in the crowd numbers, business has been good.

“Maybe more people will come in the next few weeks when the evening rain stops,” he said.

Muhammad Ikhwan, who sells sup gearbox (spiced bone marrow soup), increased his food price by RM2 a bowl this year.

“So far, customers have not complained as they understand our predicament,” he said.

Karim Mohamed, 33, who sold an average of 100 plates of nasi arab a day during the first week of Ramadan, was satisfied with the crowd.

“Last year, I opened one stall in Kota Tinggi, but I have now decided to have three stalls instead in Johor Baru as the demand is expected to be better here,” he said.

Karim, an Egyptian married to a Malaysian, said he had to raise the price of the rice dish this year.

The price for the chicken nasi arab now costs RM13, which is an increase of RM1 compared to last year, while the price for the mutton version has been increased by RM5.

“For the mutton rice, the price has gone up from RM15 to RM20 a plate because 1kg of imported mutton from Australia is now sold at RM48 compared to RM40 previously,” he said, adding that rice and oil had also become dearer.

Adda Heights Ramadan bazaar organiser Syed Mohd Ghazafi Syed Abu Bakar, 51, said price increases had not affected the crowds at bazaars.

“People generally understand that the price of goods has gone up and that traders have no choice but to increase food prices.

“So far, the price increase at bazaars is not so much that the food becomes unaffordable.

“I have also reminded my traders to be mindful about this and not to go overboard in the pricing,” he said.

He feels that traders are finally able to heave a sigh of relief this year as the crowd has been as good as pre-pandemic times.

“Since last year, business has been improving for most traders.

“The rain over the past few days had affected the crowd, but we normally see a spike in the number of customers a week or two before Hari Raya Aidilfitri,” he added.

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