Abu Dhabi residents make a beeline for free biryani at a villa on Abu Dhabi Corniche Image Credit: Anjana Sankar/XPRESS

ABU DHABI: It is 4pm and the steady trickle of people has by now swelled into a huge crowd at the open area behind villa No 59 on the Abu Dhabi Corniche.

A kandura-clad man emerges from the building and gestures at the crowd to queue up.

Within seconds, pots of piping hot biryani are placed on a table, with the aroma of Indian spices wafting through the air. As as a team of helpers gets ready to serve the dish, the men in queue jostle as they thrust plastic boxes, metal pots and even big casseroles for a free fill of the Ramadan special biryani.

Abdul Khader, the kitchen supervisor at the villa, said more than 4,000 people are served free biryani daily during Ramadan.

“This is a daily service at the villa during Ramadan. Our landlord has been doing this for the last 10 years,” said Abdul Khader, a Keralite who has been working at the villa for 40 years. XPRESS got access to the villa’s kitchen, specially set up for Ramadan where a team of 25 cooks and helpers prepares the dish.

Abdul Khader who is helped by his wife in managing the kitchen said they use 450kg of rice, 400kg of meat (chicken, mutton or beef) and 100kg of vegetables daily to prepare the meal.

Early start

“We start our preparation at around 5am. People work in groups to cut vegetables, clean and marinate the meat. By 3pm, the biryani is ready,” said Abdul Khader.

Saadique Ustad, a cook at the villa, said it is a team effort and they all take delight in preparing the dish.

“Now cooking the special biryani is as much a part of our Ramadan as is fasting,” said Ustad who has been working in the villa for five years.

The free biryani is a huge hit among many workers in Abu Dhabi and most of them said they came to know of it through word of mouth.

“My friend told me about this take-away biryani. Now I come here almost every day,” said Pakistani salesman Mohammad Haneef.

Indian driver Noushad, who is a regular here, said he has been taking biryani parcels from the villa for the last three years. “I was still new in the city when a friend introduced me to the villa biryani. Now I am kind of attached to this annual take-away feast,” said Noushad. “By the time I finish duty and reach my accommodation in Muroor, it is too late to cook. The free food pack is a huge relief.”

Pakistani Razullah, a jobseeker who is on a visit to Abu Dhabi, said he has been living on the biryani since the beginning of Ramadan.

“I neither have a job nor money. After ending the fast, I save the biryani for my suhoor,” said Razullah.

Most people who have taken the biryani parcels also vouch for the taste. “It is really tasty and better than most of the biryanis I have eaten before,” said Bangladeshi gardener Aminullah.

When XPRESS contacted the Emirati owner of the villa, he said he does not like to publicise his charity work and insisted on anonymity.

“This is what our religion and our leaders, especially late Shaikh Zayed, has taught us. It is our duty to help those in need and we should not shout from the rooftop about an act of kindness,” said the man who is a senior official in the Abu Dhabi government.

“One thing I can tell you. We do not differentiate between religions. All are welcome to have our food,” he added.