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Brisk bakes. An Afghan bakery at Madinat Zayed in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/XPRESS

Abu Dhabi: There is no dearth of modern bakeries that supply a variety of breads in Abu Dhabi. But there is something about the good old Afghan bakeries that make the traditional tandoor-baked wheat breads or rotis which still have many takers.

Cheap, healthy and served piping hot, these rotis can be seen flying off the oven in the dozens within minutes.

Baker Assadullah Bismillah who runs Century Bakery in Khailidiya said the shop churns out over 3,000 rotis a day.

“I have around 1,000 regular customers from all nationalities. When it comes to taste and price, other branded breads cannot compete with our hand-made rotis,” boasts Bismillah who has been running the shop for the past 20 years.

The bakery may seem small and stuffy but the six men working with two tandoori ovens aren’t complaining. They are on the job, baking the rotis in quick succession from 8am to 3pm and 6pm to 12am.

Bismillah said they use up around 350kg of wheat daily. A kneading machine is used to mix the flour with water, salt and a pinch of baking soda.

“We prepare the dough around midnight for the morning, and again at 2pm for the evening shift. Nothing ever gets left over,” claimed the baker.

New varieties

Abdul Samad, another Afghan baker who runs Zafran Bakery near Al Nasr, is also known for his rotis.

“Those who have tasted our rotis once will definitely come back for more. That is why the shop is running,” said Samad who claims he sells 2,000 rotis daily

In addition to the plain wheat rotis, some bakeries have introduced new varieties with fillings of zaatar and cheese, meat and olives, minced meat, honey, potato etc.

A plain roti costs Dh1, a zaatar and cheese roti comes for Dh3 and the minced meat and olives roti Dh7.

Loyal customers say the killer prices and the freshness of the rotis make these traditional bakeries hugely popular.

“I have been buying these breads almost daily for the last five years. For Dh1, I don’t think I will find anything as wholesome and tasty,” said Jordanian teacher Mohammad Saleh.

Suhail, a construction worker from Bangladesh, said he and his friends have these Afghan breads both for lunch and dinner.

“They are very filling and last us for hours.”

Although the bakers are still selling the rotis at Dh1, they expressed concerns that the low cost is eating into their business.

“The cost of wheat has gone up from Dh35 to Dh87 a kilo. But the price of the roti has remained constant. We do not know how long we can sustain this business,” said Khudaidad Ghazi, a baker from Flowers Corner bakery in Madinat Zayed.

He said rents for his shop increased from Dh60,000 to Dh100,000 a few months ago. “We are struggling because of the spiralling costs. We are in a fix. If we increase the price of the rotis, we will lose customers. If we don’t, we cannot break even,” said Ghazi.