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It’s Malaysia’s second Ramadhan period since the pandemic began. We check in with a few essential workers to see how they’re handling intermittent meal times on the job, their favourite dishes, and how they plan to spend Raya this year.

Fahmi, Pos Laju courier

When you’re used to being on the move, delivering parcels from house to house and from morning to evening, eating quick meals alone becomes pretty much second nature. Fahmi, 28, who’s been a courier at Pos Laju since April 2014 covering an area in Nilai, can attest to this. Depending on the volume of parcels for the day, he can be done with deliveries as early as 5pm—or as late as 10pm.

As Ramadhan also happens to be one of the country’s peak shopping periods, it’s thus a very busy time for Fahmi, especially when the pandemic forced the country into lockdown and people turned to online shopping.

“During fasting month there’s really not enough time to go home to eat. I usually just buka puasa in my van,” says Fahmi, who drives a Pos Laju van to do his deliveries.

He lives in Labu, a small town near Seremban about 20 minutes away from Nilai. For food, he usually buys from a nearby bazaar, or orders chicken rice from Nasi Ayam Gemas Mustafah Original, a neighbourhood eatery in Bandar Baru Nilai. According to Fahmi, whose hometown is Gemas, chicken rice has always been his go-to meal, but on busier days when there’s not enough time to takeaway food, he would settle for bread from a convenience store.

Formerly employed with Pos Laju but now an independent contractor for the national courier, Fahmi can pretty much dictate his own hours. During Ramadhan, after a simple sahur of bread and Milo with his housemates, his day typically starts at 9am when he does his daily pick-up from the hub; he spends the rest of day doing deliveries at his own pace, but he’s mindful of customers’ expectations and would try his best to clear as many of the day’s parcels as possible.

It’s this obligation to clear any backlog before the Raya break that makes Fahmi unsure if he can go back to his hometown in time to spend the first day with his family, but he’s used to this. He admits that work can get a little tiring especially during fasting month, but he enjoys his job.

“After doing this for a long time, it starts to get fun—the travelling, the flexible hours. Customers are not problematic; in 10 customers, there’s usually only one who’s not okay.”

Wan Kudin & Ani, restaurant owners

When you’re in the food service, breaking fast is always a quick affair of water and a few dates—at least in the case of Wan Kudin, 43 and his wife, Ani, 40, who own Wawa Seafood in Bandar Baru Nilai. During Ramadhan, the restaurant is at its busiest at 6pm, fulfilling takeaway orders by phone and via food delivery app Foodpanda. This rush continues until after buka puasa, as they would still have dine-in customers to attend to until the restaurant closes at midnight. The couple would only get home at around 1am.

“We’ll only eat [a full meal] when there’s an opportunity,” says Wan Kudin. When things start to slow down, staff members take turns to eat—usually alone.

There’s no such thing as group meals on duty but they do get their pick of whatever they want from the restaurant’s Malay-Thai menu. According to Ani, they normally have tom yam with rice, but when the mood strikes, they would pick up Kelantan kuih from the nearby Ramadhan bazaar, and on some occasions, order food such as nasi Arab from another restaurant on Foodpanda.

Wawa Seafood has been around for 13 years, and in that time it grew from a humble neighbourhood warung to a local attraction. According to Wan Kudin, half of their pre-pandemic clientele were actually from out of state in neighbouring townships like Sepang, Bangi and Kajang. As such, when the country went into lockdown in March 2020, the business took a huge hit, and remained closed for most of the first MCO, reopening only later in July.

“Right now, we’re not doing business for profit, we’re trying to protect the business from dying,” says Wan Kudin. “As long as we can pay rent and our staff, it’s considered a blessing.”

Originally from Pasir Mas, Kelantan, the couple would usually take a long break for Raya to go back home, but given current travel restrictions, they look to spend a quiet Raya in Nilai this year. They even plan to cut short their usual extended break to resume business, joking that working might chase away boredom, and keep their minds off missing home.

Muhammad Al Aiyubbi Adnanni, GrabFood delivery-partner

Ayub, 22, is a graphic design graduate based in Johor Bahru, currently taking time off from furthering his studies. He’s been a GrabFood delivery-partner since 2019, but it wasn’t until the country’s first Movement Control Order (MCO) last year that he started taking more delivery jobs.

This year, it’s his first Ramadhan as a full-time GrabFood employee, and he’s set a rule for himself: deliver his last order by 6.30pm so that he can make it home in time for buka puasa. So far, he’s managed to stick with it for the most part; he’s only had two occasions on which he had to break fast on the road.

Ayub lives with his brothers, and together they would often sit down to a meal cooked by their aunt, who lives nearby. It’s a low-key affair with rice, lauk and the occasional takeaway dish from a Ramadhan bazaar. But unlike others who have a hankering for particular dishes this time of year, Ayub is mostly neutral.

“To me, [most Ramadhan bazaar food] isn’t exclusive to Ramadhan because you can get them any other time, it’s just that most of us tend to seek them out during this month,” he says. What he does crave during Ramadhan is a lot more simple: chilled watermelon juice.

“I don’t know if this is scientifically true, but when I drink watermelon juice I feel my body cool. It’s just so refreshing and it’s not too sweet.”

Ayub is looking forward to Raya, because that’s when he can savour his family’s speciality, ayam masak kicap, a tradition started by his late grandmother. It’s a common dish that’s not so commonly eaten during Raya, but to Ayub, it’s his favourite thing to eat with ketupat. Since his grandmother’s passing, he’s now the one who cooks it every year.

“Ever since I was a kid we’ve always had ayam masak kicap for Raya, so when I went to other people’s houses I thought it was strange that they didn’t have it,” he recalls. “Ours is pretty different from the usual style; it’s not too soupy or dry, and we add suhoon to it, so it’s kind of like lodeh.”

Hana Azhari, medical officer

Around this time last year, Hana was part of the team looking after the Covid wards at Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhriz UKM in Bandar Tun Razak, KL. She worked 12-hour shifts from 9am to 9pm or 9pm to 9am; whichever shift she served, and it meant either having sahur or breaking fast at work.

“On the days when I started at 9pm, I would have a nice buka at my parents’ house before going into work,” says Hana, who would pack overnight oats from home to eat for sahur.

On the day shift, the hospital kitchen provides food for staff, and sometimes generous individuals or businesses would donate meals to frontliners.

“Whether buka puasa was on time or a little bit delayed [because we had something to do], we always had time to eat.”

Now a medical officer in family medicine based at the hospital’s Klinik Primer PPUKM, Hana is back to working regular hours from 8am to 5pm on weekdays, but there’s still the possibility of being called back into the wards if the hospital’s number of cases increases.

On her regular schedule however, planning meals for Ramadhan is more straightforward: she cooks a meal (such as lentil soup and a main dish) every other day to eat with her husband, and alternates this with breaking fast together with her parents who live nearby.

“It helps having a regular schedule. [On weekdays] I get home at about 5.30pm and I cook in time for buka, which I wasn’t able to do last year.”

When she eats with her family, that’s when she can enjoy Malaysian local food like chicken rice, mee bandung and mee kolok, cooked by her Sarawakian mother. But if there’s one thing Hana looks forward to the most for buka puasa, it’s sirap bandung with ice cream soda, one of the special drinks her mother makes for the occasion.

For Raya, a homecooked spread of rendang, lontong and coconut sambal to go with staples like ketupat palas, lemang and satay would adorn the family dining table. Last Raya was a particularly memorable one for Hana; she was initially scheduled to work the night shift on the first day of Raya—until she and her team received surprising news a few days before.

“We were really, really happy when the [Covid case] numbers came down enough that we unexpectedly got let off the Covid wards. It felt like a really big gift. I remember my mum made proper Raya food and we spent the whole day eating.”

***

Based in Nilai and bred in KL, Ana Syazana is an occasional writer and master of the household air-fryer, what she thinks is mankind’s greatest invention.

See more:  frontliners, ramadhan

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