Little India restaurateurs fear the worst

Malaysian favourite: A restaurant helper serving a takeaway customer in Penang. Owners and enthusiasts of eateries like this one are lamenting the temporary setback to the authentic banana leaf meal experience.

GEORGE TOWN: The fun of sitting down and enjoying an authentic banana leaf meal at restaurants looks to be a thing of the past now.

Technician K. Kumaravelu, 35, who often gets lunch at one of the restaurants in the heritage enclave in Little India here, said eating takeaway food deprived one of the flavour of eating on banana leaf.

“It is simply not the same when you don’t have your meal on a banana leaf. When I have my meals served on banana leaf, I just enjoy it so much that sometimes, I even ask for a second serving,” he said.

Ardent vegetarian food lover Vivian Goh, 45, a teacher, said she missed the “thali” lunch served on banana leaf which comes with a variety of side dishes to choose from at her favourite restaurant.

“Now I have to settle for takeaway meals and be satisfied with fewer side dishes as it is not possible for me to order the entire set,” she said.

While consumers are longing for their authentic meals, restaurant owners are barely surviving as they have to face high rentals and dwindling customers.

Restaurant owner V. Harikrishnan, who owns two outlets serving banana leaf meals in Penang Street, said he used to enjoy 500 patrons per day at both the outlets.

“But now, I am only doing 20% of our usual business since the MCO.

“The 20% includes takeaway meals and delivery, and I have about 40 workers at both my outlets. I probably can survive until the end of March only.

“The going seems to be getting tough. For April, I had to look at alternative funding from my other businesses to sustain the restaurants. But if the MCO is extended beyond May 12, then I will be at my wits’ end,” he said.

Another restaurant owner, Datuk N. Ramanathan, said it was a double blow for him, too, as 70% of his customers were Indian Muslims.

“It gets worse now during Ramadan as my Muslim customers will not come during the day due to the restriction.

“It’s also not possible to cater food during the breaking of fast period as we have to close by 7.30pm. We’re facing some tough times.

“We are paying high rental for the premises and have about 15 workers and we need to pay their salaries as well,” he lamented.

Businesswoman S. Sarala said her restaurant used to serve about 300 people a day but now only catered to about 50 takeaway orders.

“Our rental is RM4,500 a month and I have seven workers.

“It’s just not feasible to continue this business if the MCO is extended again after May 12,” she added.

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banana leaf , Little India , MCO


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