What It’s Like to Work in a Restaurant and Fast During Ramadan


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What It’s Like to Work in a Restaurant and Fast During Ramadan

For Muslims restaurant workers observing the religious fast, being surrounded by delicious food is a challenge. “It’s the smell of biryani that makes it tough,” says Umar Farooq Mirza of Glasgow’s Yadgar restaurant.

In between Glasgow's red brick flats, the staff at Yadgar, one of the city's oldest Pakistani restaurants, are busy with deliveries before the evening rush of customers breaking their fasts for Ramadan.

As the workers hurriedly carry large sacks of basmati rice and wheat into the small restaurant, it is hard to believe they haven't eaten or drunk anything for over ten hours.


Poppadoms piled at Yadgar Punjabi restaurant, Glasgow. All photos by the author.

Because the Islamic calendar operates on a lunar-based cycle, fasting in the UK can last up to 19 hours a day. This year, Ramadan falls during the summer and has been its longest in 33 years.


For those observing the religious fast in the food industry, this is something they have to get used to.

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"For me, it is the smell of biryani that makes it tough to work and fast, but you just get on with it," Umar Farooq Mirza explains in Urdu as he stops to take a quick break. "Muslims only do this once a year, so it's really not that big a deal."


Restaurant worker Umar Farooq Mirza, who is fasting for Ramadan.

Since opening in 1981, Yadgar has developed a loyal customer base and is known for its fresh Punjabi food. The restaurant's décor is basic, but has a homely feel to it. My dad used to bring me here as a teenager, and nothing much has changed since then.

Behind me, someone in the kitchen shouts in Punjabi about an order of rice and chickpeas. It seems like it is going to be a busy shift for Mirza.

He tells me that his routine changes during Ramadan and that fasting while working around so much appetising food isn't as difficult as it seems. Following afternoon prayers in a nearby mosque, he makes his way to Yadgar every day, where the staff prepare to cook.


"Of course I get hungry seeing how my job involves handling food all day—it's especially the smell when you're cooking that makes it the hardest," he says. "But, it's not like there is any pressure on me to fast because I really enjoy it. I see Ramadan as a way of being cleansed from all the negativity of the year."

Mirza finishes his shift around midnight after breaking his fast, also known as iftar. He then has to stay up to have a pre-dawn meal and pray. He does miss having "a Yadgar" for dinner, though.


"When it's not Ramadan, all the staff usually eat here together in the evening and it is a nice atmosphere," he says. "But it's not long til we go back to normal."

Muslims use Ramadan as an opportunity to test their patience. Cooking and serving food that is off-limits for those observing the holy month is a big challenge.

"I have a weakness for curry, pakora, and samosas," Mirza says, gesturing towards the trays of food lined up in the front display. "You have to sacrifice these things during Ramadan—your hunger, your thirst. It's all about being patient."


A regular customer chats to manager Naveed Iqbal, as he makes a large iftar order for the man's family, who will break their fasts in a few hours.

After 7 PM is when things get stressful with both weekend punters looking for a takeaway before a night out and then later, when fasting Muslim customers have their first meal of the day.

In between making up orders, Iqbal explains that the first few days of Ramadan are the hardest for him, but then it gets easier.


"Ramadan is going really well for me," he says. "It's the one time of the year when Muslims truly get in touch with their faith, and working around food for most of the day never gets in my way."

An order of naan comes through a square opening in the wall, which leads to the kitchen where the chefs continue to cook. Iqbal places grilled kebabs on top of the bread as more customers begin to queue.


"It's really not that hard," he adds. "If you're mentally strong, you can encourage yourself to do it. On the first two days, you feel very thirsty but not really hungry. After that, you get used to it and it becomes part of the job."


He interrupts the interview because the restaurant's phone keeps ringing.

Iqbal's hectic schedule means he has to balance work with Ramadan when he arrives at the restaurant in the afternoon. Not all of Yadgar's dishes are cooked at once, so he starts his day by helping the kitchen staff cook huge batches of food.

"We like to cook as we go along to keep everything fresh, then again we make the dishes again in the evening," Iqbal explains. "If there's anything that runs out quicker, we always make sure it's ready in no time."


Mirza with Yadgar restaurant manager Naveed Iqbal.

Because all of the staff are fasting, it makes working together easier.

"My colleagues are very nice so it makes it a bonus to be here during Ramadan," Iqbal says.

When I ask how it is possible to fast for 19 hours while being constantly surrounded by food, he laughs.

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"It's really not so difficult to do and besides, people diet as well, but they have no problem," he jokes. "On a more serious note, it is all to do with willpower and following the teachings of our religion. Sure, my patience is tested and my temper definitely tends to be short, but I just get on with it because I know I'll be rewarded."


Kheer, a rice pudding-style dessert.

Another member of staff carries a large tray of a rice pudding-style dessert called kheer to the display counter.

"These are freshly made everyday," Iqbal says proudly.

While many Muslims opt to have something light such as dates or milk when breaking a fast, for Yadgar staff and customers, pakora is the iftar food of choice.

"We have a saying here," the Iqbal tells me. "Until South Asians eat pakoras, their fast hasn't been broken."

As he says this, a fresh batch is carried out of the kitchen. Iqbal eyes them up, then gets back to work.