LOS ANGELES: For the past four years, Mona Al-Assiri has been cooking Arabic food for Saudi students in California.
She started her business to support her family after the death of her husband and it quickly became popular.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, this Ramadan she and her fellow chefs have continued preparing the meals they are famed for.
Al-Assiri, who is known affectionately by her staff and customers as Om Talal, told Arab News how they are adjusting to supplying meals during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“We cook for iftar and sahoor as well,” Al-Assiri said. “The latter dishes differ from the first like mash and grouts, sambousek and soup because the food for iftar is different from that of sahoor, which is mostly rice and chicken or rice and meat.”
Al-Assiri, 50, moved from Saudi Arabia to the US in 2013. Her kitchen is in Anaheim, part of Greater Los Angeles, and she sells the food to Saudi students studying at a number of different schools and colleges in the region.
As the business has grown, Al-Assiri has had her cooking praised by government officials, celebrities and even princes. But while her spirit is still strong, her business is facing a slowdown in orders.
“Because of coronavirus this year we are delivering fewer meals - between 35 and 40,” Al-Assiri said. “During Ramadan in years before 2020, we didn’t have enough time to meet all the requests.”
She said her staff were taking extra precautions to avoid the spread of COVID-19 during their deliveries.
“Of course we need to be cautious fearing for our safety and the safety of the students when we send them our food,” she said. “When we go to the market we always wear gloves and masks and have sanitizers, and stay about a meter and a half away from others.”
Fans of her kitchen have said Al-Assiri’s cooking is a taste of home, a reminder of the dishes their mums used to make.
With muslims forced to observe Ramadan in isolation, meals like these are a way to remain connected to their community.
“My message to those fasting is that this is a month of worship and fasting and getting closer to God,” said Al-Assiri. “We need to be away from envy and hate without forgetting family kinship. During coronavirus we cannot visit each other, but we can ask about each other through the phone.”