At the Stutong Ramadan bazaar in Kuching, customers on the brink of breaking their fast make a beeline for the murtabak stall, where the delicious aroma of bread and grilled meat wafts overhead.
There, Yusri Ramli is hard at work cooking pancake after pancake stuffed with ground meat while his wife helps him manage the orders.
Yusri has been making murtabak for 14 years now and never missed a single Ramadan bazaar except for the two years when Covid-19 restrictions saw the markets shut down.
Those two years affected him badly as Ramadan is traditionally a lucrative time for food vendors who make a roaring trade serving customers looking to break their fast.
Still, he did his best to navigate the virus restrictions, even turning to online marketing in order to continue selling his food.
He began taking orders on WhatsApp and Facebook, starting weeks ahead of the fasting month to make sure he would have enough time to meet the orders.
“We wanted to start early so that our customers could find us,” the 42-year-old told MalaysiaNow.
On normal days, Yusri sells mee kolok and roti canai. His chicken and beef murtabak only make an appearance at Ramadan bazaars.
“When Ramadan bazaars were banned to curb the spread of the virus, it automatically cut my income so we had less to put on the table,” he recalled.
“So I sold my food from a stall outside my house in Kampung Tabuan Melayu.”
As the country starts its transition towards the endemic phase of Covid-19, Yusri hopes that things will begin looking up for him once more.
In Sarawak, 69 stalls have been permitted at two bazaars in Satok and at the Mydin Samariang supermarket. At the Stutong Ramadan bazaar where Yusri sells his murtabak, 68 stalls are allowed to operate.
Yusri is relieved to be able to participate in the bazaar again and is working hard to make up for the income he lost over the last two years.
“I hope with the reopening of the bazaars, we will be able to bounce back and earn more income to help cover our daily expenses,” he said.
Not far off, Sadekin Elli who runs a stall selling ais kacang and other shaved ice desserts is full of energy and excitement.
Like Yusri, she had operated a Ramadan bazaar stall for years until the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Trader Mohamad Putra Usop meanwhile said he was relieved to be able to work at the bazaar again after two years of being shut down.
He is also glad to be back among his friends, most of whom he had not seen since the pandemic measures began.
“Things got off to a slow start today because of bad weather but now the crowds are encouraging,” he said.
“It’s great to see all my friends again and to catch up with them,” he added. “We are all one gang here.”