Haleem is a delicacy unique to Hyderabad. The aromatic stew-like dish made from finely pounded meat, is synonymous with the holy month of Ramzan. During the festive season, restaurants and food joints set up Haleem stalls, primarily catering to Muslims, who break their fast in the evening. However, the second wave of COVID-19, which necessitated restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, has affected the business, say Haleem makers.
While the Telangana government has not enforced any lockdown, following directions from the Telangana High Court, it has placed a partial curfew since April 20 between 9 pm - 5 am, thus affecting the sales of Haleem in the evening, which is the peak time for the business. The restriction is in place until May 8.
Due to the restriction on peopleâ€™s movement, residents can only buy Haleem through online food delivery services like Swiggy and Zomato.
â€śFirst of all, the business has been reduced by half due to the pandemic when compared to the sales in 2019. Adding to our woes, Swiggy and Zomato take at least 60-70% from our profits,â€ť laments Roshan Khalil, owner of Grill 9, a popular restaurant in Secunderabadâ€™s Karkhana.
In 2020, during the first wave of COVID-19, the Haleem Makersâ€™ Association had given a unanimous call against setting up Haleem stalls to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Khalil adds, â€śDue to the spread of coronavirus, nobody is stepping out of their houses and are preferring to order Haleem online. We are now getting 30% of our business from Swiggy and Zomato. We are unable to make any profit because of this. A profit is possible only when we have walk-in customers. But due to the night restrictions, people are not coming to the restaurant.â€ť
Making a similar observation, MA Majeed, Managing Director of the popular Pista House, which is known for its tasty Haleem, says, â€śThe Hyderabad food culture is such that people come out to eat only after 8 pm, but due to the restrictions imposed, it has affected the sales.â€ť
Majeed, however, adds that compared to other restaurants, Pista House was able to make a reasonable profit relatively.
Speaking about the challenge of making Haleem, he says, â€śIt is a costly and challenging affair â€” to conduct tests for the employees, ensuring their safety, keeping the premises sanitised. A portion of our investment went into the safety aspect of it, but it is unavoidable since we have to keep both our staff and customers safe.â€ť
As part of the COVID-19 safety protocol, employees of Pista House were put in quarantine for eight days and were tested for the coronavirus before engaging them for work.
"We thermal screen the employees regularly and check their oxygen saturation levels,â€ť says Majeed.
Realising that it would be difficult to make a profit in the present circumstances, the Haleem makers tried to compensate for their losses by increasing the prices of Haleem. While in 2019, Pista House sold Haleem for Rs 190 per plate, the rate was increased to Rs 220.
â€śThe prices of ingredients like ghee, spices and everything else has increased, so we had no other choice,â€ť says Khalil of Grill 9, which has also increased prices.
Srihari, owner of Biryani Mahal in Alwal, says, â€śOf course, we are not making any major profits, but we will continue to sell Haleem because it has become our identity. Even if we are selling to just 100 people each day, we are happy. Because people will remember our restaurant and our food, which would help in building our legacy.â€ť