Many families from various localities of Sharjah and Ajman visit Al Mujjarah.
Jamil Khan, Senior Reporter
Expat communities living overseas always miss home but there are some areas in their foreign land which give them a ‘home feeling’. Al Mujarrah in Sharjah, referred to as ‘Pakistan Chowk’, is one such place where the community’s residents bask in nostalgia, getting a taste of life – and food – in their own country. They also serve as a rendezvous for national events where they display their patriotism and brotherhood, emphasising harmony with other nationalities residing in the UAE.
The locality of Al Mujjarah in Sharjah is next to the Rolla Market cluster and behind prominent Al Hamra Cinema where a number of shops remind Pakistanis of some famous shopping areas of Lahore or Karachi. These shops are full of traditional merchandise from ethnic clothes to fashion accessories, fresh produce like famous ‘saag’, ‘makkai ki roti’, ‘lassi’ and well-known sweets from all over Pakistan.
In a recent tour of the area it was found that a majority of the shops selling most of the products from Pakistan are a big attraction for the community. Many families from various localities of Sharjah and Ajman visit this area. Pakistanis love to shop in this area as they can satisfy their taste buds with different varieties of famous traditional confectionery like ‘gulab jaman’, ‘burfi’, ‘rabbri malai’, ‘phenny sawaina’ (vermicelli), ‘halwa puri’, ‘paithey’, etc.
Sohail Khawar, a long-time resident of the UAE , on the suggestion of his friends opened the first Pakistani shop in Sharjah 20 years ago, Al Hajaz Grocery (also known as Pakistan Supermarket), to offer traditional delicacies to his fellow countrymen. “It was the first store with the aim of catering for the needs of the Pakistani diaspora missing their homegrown products from food to party wear, traditional dresses for various occasions and most importantly the long list of confectionery items connected to various national, religious and social events,” he said.
The response from the local community was spontaneous and enormous as they started bringing various products in bulk, especially fresh produce from Pakistan, through daily passenger flights. On weekends all the stuff was sold out which encouraged them to expand with more products and increased quantity.
“Earlier, the freight rates with PIA or other flights were low and we were selling our products at very nominal rates. Now the rates (freight) are many times high but still people love to buy their homegrown products. We witnessed that the purchasing power of the community based in the UAE has increased with the passage of time. This gave us an edge to continue and expand our offerings for the local expat community,” he said.
It is worth mentioning that many entrepreneurs from the community forayed into the retail business with the same idea – promote homegrown products in the local markets – but only few survived with time.
Major hub: He pointed that from the start they were struggling to publicise their store through extensive promotions as Al Mujjarah was less populated at the time. But now it is a bustling hub with a number of stores offering products from Pakistan. “In the last 20 years, the area has gained a reputation among many expat communities and is unofficially known as ‘Pakistan Chowk’ (square/roundabout) among Asian communities.
“Our people have many traditions as well as almost all parts of the country have their own ways of celebrating their happiness. Be it a birthday, engagement or wedding our people have a special range of food items, especially sweets, to celebrate these events. Keeping this in mind we found someone had to fill the huge gap,” he said, unravelling the story behind the opening of his venture, Pakistan Sweets and Bakers, which has now expanded to 10 stores including confectionery shops throughout Sharjah and Dubai.
Responding to a question, he pointed out that to provide freshly baked products, they established a bakery in Sharjah which prepared daily a wide range of snacks and sweets to fulfil the demands at their outlets spread across two emirates.
“The majority of community members especially families used to have snacks with evening tea like ‘rusk’, ‘samosa’, ‘nimak paray’, etc and to provide freshly baked products we brought special bakers from Pakistan to prepare here on a daily basis and the response has been satisfactory,” he said.
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