For 15 years, Siti Zabedah Abdul Wahab’s family food business has opened for one month a year, selling murtabak, a pan-fried bread stuffed with meat, at Malaysia’s popular Ramadan bazaars.
But this year, Murtabak Mami Murtabak Sultan started taking orders on Whatsapp and Facebook weeks before the Muslim fasting month began on April 23, as authorities across Southeast Asia called off Ramadan bazaars amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is the first time we are selling online, so we wanted to start early to make sure our customers can find us,” 38-year-old Siti Zabedah told Reuters.
Ramadan is traditionally a lucrative time for food vendors in Muslim-majority countries, with more people going out for late-night meals after breaking their fast at sunset.
But the global virus outbreak, with more than 2.6 million people infected, has led to widespread curbs.
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Malaysian authorities have imposed a partial lockdown until mid-May and called off Ramadan bazaars. They are usually attended by packed crowds and feature hundreds of stalls selling food for iftar, or the fast-breaking meal.
The movement curbs have forced thousands of street hawkers and vendors to embrace digital platforms, mirroring a shift in neighbouring Indonesia, where roadside businesses enjoy a sizeable online presence.
“In Indonesia, you can order pretty much anything you want on an app,” said Rosli Sulaiman, president of the Malaysian Malay Hawkers and Small Traders Association.