October 3, 2023

Small business owners are looking to start a burgeoning trade in snacks known as tajil after a tough few years due to COVID.

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Medan, Indonesia – Around 3:00 pm every day during the holy month of Ramadan, 34-year-old Mohammad Reza gets to work at his roadside kiosk in the Indonesian city of Medan.

Using a gas oven set on a grassy bank next to a busy roundabout, Reza reheats pre-cooked portions of a pasta shotel to sell to hungry Indonesians who starve from sunrise to sunset.

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“I like selling taqjil because it’s easy,” Reza, who runs a chicken restaurant the rest of the year, told Al Jazeera. “I only work from three to six in the evening and I can make about 80 percent of the profit.”

Mohammad Reza earns about 80 percent of the profits by selling pre-cooked pasta during Ramadan. [Aisyah Llewellyn]

Tajil are small snacks or light meals eaten in Indonesia at iftar, the sunset meal when Muslims break their fast. Takjil means “to speed up” in Arabic and in turn has been adopted in the Indonesian language of the Indonesian language to mean “to speed up a quick interruption”.

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Reza said some of his regulars at his restaurant are also tajil customers — they pitched him the idea of ​​a bite-sized shotel like tajil, which Reza makes with pasta, minced chicken, sausage and marinara sauce.

Since the dish is on the Ramadan menu for the first time this year, Reza isn’t sure how well it will be received, and only cooks about 50 servings a day to test the waters.

While restaurateurs in Indonesia have traditionally viewed tajil as a lucrative way to make money ahead of Eid al-Adha, which marks the end of Ramadan, the business has been hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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At the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, Reza was forced to sell his tajiel in front of his house. Most of its sales were online through the food delivery apps Grab and GoFood.

Even with the help of the online business, Reza was still earning about half the amount he can make at a roadside kiosk—about $329 a month. Last year, he made about $658 selling taqjil on the side of the road in one of Medan’s largest housing estates, which he is repeating this year.

Naila’s family has been selling takjil for decades. [Aisyah Llewellyn]

Nayla, a schoolgirl’s family, has been selling snacks since her father, now in his 40s, attended school. Now 18-year-old Nailya and her 16-year-old cousin Dava are in charge of the family’s snack stand.

“Chocolate-covered bananas are the most popular snack we sell, probably because they’re so sweet, and people love sweets when they’re hungry all day,” Nailah told Al Jazeera.

A takjeel stall can fetch around $130 a day, making it more profitable than a family run chicken restaurant, which typically fetches around $92.

The family sells about 50 different types of snacks, including fried spring rolls, mini donuts, jellies, pancakes and cream puffs. There are so many different varieties that they are not sure how many servings they sell, only that the number is in the “hundreds”.

Devi Putri smiles from behind her stall.
Devi Putri is new to the takjeel business. [Aisyah Llewellyn]

Compared to Nyla and Dawa, Devi Putri, who is studying to be a pharmacist at university, is new to the takjeel business.

This year, the 22-year-old hopes to make extra money during Ramadan by selling es buah, a popular iced fruit cocktail. She chose es buah as it does not require cooking or special equipment and hired two friends to help her serve the customers.

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Putri makes the drink by mixing raspberry syrup with condensed milk and then adding various types of fruits such as papaya, dragon fruit, melon and strawberries, as well as herbal jelly and nata de coco.

“This is the first year that I’m selling tajiel and I hope it will be successful,” she told Al Jazeera. “I’m just trying my best to see if it works. It’s better than sitting in my bedroom all day.