Elazar Sontag is a writer from Oakland, The golden state, living in Brooklyn. He's presently a staff writer at Eater, and also he’s the writer of Flavors of Oakland: A Cookbook in 20 Stories, a book about home cooks and their food societies. He's a contributor to the Washington Blog post, New York Magazine, Vice, and also more.

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Marhaba Indian and Pakistani Halal Cuisine sits at the border of Oakland"s Chinatown, wbelow old women sell foraged greens from picnic blankets, and also small dim sum restaurants, their windows cluttered through roast duck, are tucked next to towering office structures and also brand-new condominiums. Placed between these two vastly various people, Marhaba happily serves a mixture of people—Chinese shop owners gain a quick lunch break while an investment banker at the following table forms amethod on two computer systems. Inside the restaurant is a hodgepodge of Amerihave the right to flags, sparkly necklaces draped over paintings of Indian holy sites, and a large tapesattempt of Mecca. A buffet table, adorned with flashing fairy lights, takes up one full side of the dining room. A high, curved ceiling sof10s the chattering of the dining room and the Indian dance music that blares from a TV above the buffet. On the little of sidewalk exterior the restaurant, a sandwich board pulls in hungry passersby.

Bibi Ghazala and also Raja Khalid, the owners of Marhaba, present up at their restaurant by 10 o"clock eexceptionally morning, before any kind of various other businesses on the street are open up. The couple is middle-aged, and also both are bursting with power. They walk straight to the kitchen, Bibi"s wrists jingling through gold arm bands. Raja, dressed plainly in slacks and also a white button-up shirt, talks quickly in Urdu to his cousin Khalid, who"s spent the last hour establishing up chairs in the dining room and also skewering bright ovariety pieces of chicken to go into the tandoor. Anvarious other prepare is halfmethod via peeling and slicing a 100-pound bag of onions—they"ll all be supplied up by the following morning. Two even more cooks stand at the range, stirring pots full of spicy potatoes, bincreased lamb, and chunks of paneer swimming in creamy spinach. One by one, the pots and pans are cleared right into trays and also lugged out to the buffet table.


By the moment the first round of skewers is lastly pulled out of the tandoor, the table is laden through chickpeas, cauliflower, lamb, chicken, and goat, the dining room filled via the sweet mixed aroma of cardamommy, turmeric, garam masala, and also fresh chilies. Back in the kitchen, Raja is making use of a steel paddle taller than he is to stir a vat of goat curry; the pot takes up a big edge of the kitchen and also reaches as much as his waist.

Before the restaurant opens up at 11, Haroon, the rice delivery male, comes in with a dolly piled precariously through bags of rice. Over the next hour, Haroon wheels in 80 bags—over 3,000 pounds of rice in all, sufficient to last the restaurant about six months. The agency he runs with his frifinish gives nothing however rice, giving more than 200 Bay Area restaurants. Before Haroon leaves, he fills a plate at the buffet—Raja will not let him leave without eating.

To Bibi"s delight, Azhar Meood walks in as Haroon forks the last little of curry on his plate. "My boy, my lovely boy," she announces to the room. Azhar, in his mid-20s, is beaming as he greets his mommy and father. He gets a kiss on the head and sits down to chat through Haroon till a to-go order comes in.


Bibi Ghazala and Raja Khalid.

Raja and Azhar handle all the deliveries, and also as soon as they are out, Bibi takes care of the restaurant on her own. She speaks little bit English; as soon as customers ask for their inspect, she occasionally simply smiles and states, "Eat more food! Try the rice pudding." More often than not, human being look over at the rice pudding and assist themselves to a bowl or 2. I alert after a few hours that tright here is no waitstaff, unless you count Bibi, that rolls a cart through the restaurant clearing tables. Eincredibly dish ordered à la carte is lugged to the table by the prepare who made it, blurring the divide in between front and ago of house. I watch Khalid wait for a customer to taste the biryani prior to rushing ago to the kitchen to fill orders.

We sit at the cash register while Bibi organizes receipts and answers the phone. I ask her if she misses Pakistan, and her response comes conveniently. "Here, the male and the woguy is the exact same thing, more..." She stops to rack her brain for the appropriate word. "Freedom! In Urdu, it"s azadi."

In the kitchen, Khalid proceeds skewering chicken for the tandoor. Very little bit of the food right here is made in advancement or reheated, and also Raja commonly walks with the dining room assuring his customers that "the samosas are practically ready" and also "the lamb just takes a little longer." Yehia, another cook, through a soft smile and also a head of peppered gray hair, rolls out dough for naan. He supplied to run a barbershop in Jordan, wbelow his 5 kids still live. Yehia stands in between a prep table and also the tandoor, splashing each rolled-out piece of breview lightly with water prior to slapping it onto the wevery one of the cooktop, where it conveniently puffs up. He"s cautious not to take his eyes from the oven for too lengthy, lest he be required to include one more blackened naan to the small pile of rejects sitting on the respond to. Eextremely few minutes, Raja comes right into the kitchen and also taps a piece of bread, slices off a edge, or breaks a sheet in fifty percent. When he"s satisfied that the bcheck out has crisped about the corners and end up being light and airy in the middle, he brushes each item via butter and carries a wicker basket complete of steaming naan into the now-busy dining room.

He asks everyone how they like their food, and also beams when his customers are satisfied. "I choose it as soon as the people love the food," Raja states. "I love my clients, and I love my Marhaba." The word, he tells me, indicates "welcome" in Arabic. "Like as soon as someone pertains to your home, you say, "Oh, welcome, welcome.""


Cheapness isn"t just a marketing allude to Raja; it"s a foundational belief. "I know it"s not sufficient for that much food. Even if you go to Submethod, McDonald"s, you just get served 6 inches of sandwich. Take the soda, and it costs you $11 or $12. You can"t also be complete. Still hungry. I have actually," he stops to think for a minute, "40 items, Mash"Allah , all you deserve to eat. Everybody have the right to afford. Here, some people make many money. Some people less money. They cannot afford $20 buffet. I put a small much less price, everybody have the right to reap." To alleviate his labor expenses so he can charge a small less, Raja functions six days a week—eexceptionally day the restaurant is open. "Everypoint from the God," he tells me.

Long past lunchtime, to-go orders stream into the kitchen, wbelow Raja and Azhar fill brown paper bags, speak to out incoming orders, then rush to their truck to deliver the still-steaming food. When the restaurant ultimately settles dvery own at 3:30 p.m., Raja and also Bibi sit dvery own together for their very own late lunch. They"re quietly immersed in a video clip on Bibi"s phone. Azhar"s wife in Pakistan had actually a baby boy simply 2 weeks earlier. He gazes out from the screen, tiny hands grabbing at the air. As shortly as all the paperjob-related gets rid of, Azhar"s wife and also their baby are moving to America, right into the house Azhar now shares through Raja and Bibi.

Bibi and Raja both have the majority of family members still in Pakistan, and they make sure to send money house. Beyond taking care of his immediate household, Raja is looking out for a community thousands of miles ameans. In 2015 alone, Pakistani immigrants in America sent out more than a billion dollars to friends and family members ago home.

In the 30 minutes of calm before dinner orders begin pouring in, Khalid rolls out a rug in the tiny side dining room and also prays. Then he takes a nap on the couch, through a scarf over his head and also his knees tucked right into his stomach. Bibi sits on a stool at the cash register, watching a movie on her phone—San Francisco"s just been hit by a tsunami, and cars are floating away prefer specks of dust on the horizon. It"s an English-language movie without subtitles, yet she gets the gist.

The first dinner guest of the night fills up a plastic to-go carton from the buffet before explaining he does not have actually enough money to pay. Raja allows him leave with as much food as he desires. He claims it"s excellent for bringing in new company, but I alert Raja offers as much food to his returning customers as he does to civilization eating at Marhaba for the initially time. Throughout the month of Ramadan, Raja says he provides sure everyone breaking the fast at the restaurant eats for complimentary. Even if they"re Christian...and also not breaking the rapid.

To charge such low prices, I"ve learned, these restaurants count on customers having actually a selection of appetites: While I"m inhaling a third or fourth plate of food, my companion is complete after eating their cost-free soup and a bowl of lentils. The big eaters are balanced out by the little eaters. But at Marhaba, even the little eaters leave laden through rice pudding, biryani, and also tandoori chicken. Eexceptionally time I try to gain a much better knowledge of just how Raja renders ends meet, he tells me it"s all thanks to God"s excellent will. By 7 p.m., I"m starting to think him.

Dinnertime at Marhaba feels sluggish, even though the kitchen is humming via activity. Almost all the service around dinner is to-go orders, and Raja and Azhar continue to be busy transporting roughly the area.

As the last few diners trickle out, Raja does not let a single one leave without a plastic carton of biryani—he doesn"t choose reheating anypoint he have the right to make fresh, so tomorrow he"ll make a brand-new batch regardmuch less. Azhar lowers the restaurant"s metal shutter halfway, and Yehia hoses off the kitchen floor. Raja shakes my hand also and hugs me twice; Bibi asks if I"m coming ago tomorrow. The LED "Open" authorize in the home window flickers off, and also Raja brings in the sandwich board.

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Anvarious other 13-hour day is finimelted, and the following one is easily approaching. Azhar stands out front, looking worn down, as his paleas drive ameans. I ask him just how they regulate to execute this particular day after day. "My dad"s thinking is a small various," he tells me. "He does not think around money. Just sufficient to obtain by. People sometimes ask just how he does it...God."

As I head residence, stomach full to bursting, I"m still not fairly sure exactly how this restaurant maneras to stay afloat. And I recognize that the next time I fill up my plate at the buffet table, I"ll be overwhelmed via the very same feeling of awe and also incredulity that first led me to Marhaba Indian and also Pakistani Halal Cuisine searching for a solution. I concern, thinking around all the customers that might take advantage of the kindness they enrespond to at Marhaba. But then aacquire, just how could anyone steal from a restaurant that really does desire them to eat all they can?

The original version of this story claimed that the author"s complete bill was $10. In truth, as some of our readers stated, as one of our photos indicates, and also as the owners of Marhaba have actually shown, the price of the lunch buffet has actually actually climbed to $11.99. The price on the sandwich board when our author visited still review $9.99. We regret the error and have actually updated the story to reflect the restaurant"s existing pricing.