A fish restaurant’s recipe for success
Against the backdrop of Sharjah’s state-of-the-art hotels and eateries, a 40-year-old fish restaurant situated in Al Nabba is still making it big.
Frying 400 kilograms of fish a day to meet the demands of 200 visitors on week days — who swell to more than 500 on weekends — this antique-styled but cozy fish restaurant continues to attract its old clients and hundreds more new ones. The huge sign reading ‘Samra Restaurant’ is visible from a distance, yet this decades-old eating rendezvous is popularly known to its regular customers as Mama Mache Restaurant.
Mama, an Indian national known for his prowess and secret recipe for deep-frying fish, started this restaurant as a small eatery at the back of Rotana Hotel and had continued like that until ten years ago when he went back to India for good.
Now owned by an Emirati, Ahmad Khayal, Mama Mache has continued to draw hundreds of satisfied guests, including Japanese and Westerners who make the restaurant a must on their visits to Sharjah, especially during winter.
Hassan Abdul Khader, Indian manager of Mama Mache, says that he has worked with the original owner for ten years and, after mastering the craft and the specially prepared herb seasoning, has steered the restaurant to more successes, including a fast-growing clientele of tourists and residents from all emirates and abroad. He says that tourists also ask them to pack fried hamour, sherry, king fish and pomfret and send the packages to their countries for their friends.
“Sixty per cent of our daily fried-fish orders are taken out to their homes, as these customers cannot eat in the restaurant for lack of tables and chairs. These ‘take away orders” also include the ones hand-carried to (people) back home,” he adds. A numbering system has been used to ensure the queue is smooth, and customers have to wait 45 minutes after receiving the number on weekdays and even longer on weekends.
Mama Mache opens at 3pm for its all seven Indian workers to clean and prepare the fish, putting their specially prepared powder of herbs and spices to marinate the fish. Frying will start only at 6pm when customers start coming. But, the number grows bigger and bigger from 8pm until 12 midnight when the Mama Mache Restaurant closes.
Mohammed, a chef at the restaurant, says that customers choose from the different kinds of fish available in the season and the chef will start deep frying them in Hayat cooking oil. “When it is finished, we put our special secret spices and herbs on the fried fish and fry them again for a few minutes. Then, we deliver the fried fish to the customer. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to cook the fish.”
Emirati Ali Hassan, one of the regular customers at the restaurant, says that he comes from Dubai to take a Dh30 dinner comprising a big fried pomfret, roti with a dhal (pulse) curry or a green sauce specialty made of fresh coriander leaves. “I have been a regular customer for the past ten years. Like many Emiratis, I come to this restaurant twice or thrice weekly. While I am taking dinner, I also order packed meals for my family.”
Jordanian national Issam says the restaurant is an extension of his home. “I come here daily for my dinner as I like its deep fried fish very much. Since I came to UAE seven years ago, I have been driving from Ajman to the outlet at night.”
Mama Mache caters to various nationalities working and residing in the UAE, from the lowest paid labourers to the prominent Emiratis and expatriates. Regular expatriates who visit the restaurant are Sudanese, Indians, Bangladeshis, Jordanians and other Arabs. But, the biggest chunk of customers are Pakistanis.
The Mama Mache Restaurant is a by-word in Sharjah, particularly to labourers, who cannot afford to go to expensive restaurants. Its fried fish is sold between Dh5 and Dh30 depending on the size of the fish.
Khairullah, a Pakistani school bus driver who has been here for 26 years, says that he cannot afford to eat in big modern restaurants. He spends Dh20 for fried fish and roti meal with dhal curry. “I like the fried fish here. They deep fry it to cook the inside, and re-fry it from the outside to make it crispy. It is so delicious.”
Samra Restaurant has a second floor for families, who come to sit for a dinner together. It is putting into its coffers between Dh5,000 and Dh7,000 per day during winter when Sharjah tourists like to dine outside. In summer, it makes Dh4,000 to Dh6,000 of which Dh4,000 worth of deep fried fish are parceled for families, who want to stay indoors and enjoy their dinner at home.
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