On a typical Friday, Mohammed Ibrahim’s customers will wait more than an hour and a half for his restaurant’s freshly barbecued fish.
The manager of Al Askandarani Fry, Grills and Fish Preparation is one of about 10 fish restaurants lined in the narrow alleys next to Mina Fish Market that have become a weekend ritual for many in Abu Dhabi.
On working days they can serve an order – grilled, oven-baked or fried fish – in 30 to 45 minutes, but customers are willing to wait longer on the weekends, said Mr Ibrahim.
“We have customers from all nationalities, but most are locals and Arabs,” he said. “If a person places an order over the phone, we buy fish for him, clean and prepare it as per his instructions..”
“During working days I get about 20 orders over the phone and on weekends it reaches up to 60.”
The fishmongers are kept quite busy during the weekend, particularly on Fridays, when up to 500 people may visit. Most of the restaurants, which are open from 8am to 10pm, do not have sitting areas.
At the restaurant managed by Mahmoud Abdurrahman, Al Giza Pyramids Grilled Fish Service, there are 15 types of fish preparations on offer, reflecting the diversity of its clientele. Residents from any country can choose the taste that suits them, he said.
They serve it grilled, fried, baked and in casseroles, with shrimp and lobster also available as well as vegetables or rice and Arabic salad as sides.
“More than 20 people visit my shop on Fridays and more than 50 on working days,” said Mr Abdurrahman.
Emirati Ismael Al Hosni turned up to the market to buy two kilograms of grilled fish. That day he decided to order sea bream.
“Fishermen deliver the lot every day here. The quality of barbecue is very good, and they just prepare and roast in front of us as we instruct,” he said.
“In the city restaurants, we are not sure whether they are fresh or frozen fish. Generally in restaurants they use frozen fish to reduce the cost, which is not good for health.”
The outlets all charge the same price – Dh15 per kilogram for fish grilled on charcoal, Dh10 for baked and Dh10 for fried fish. Egyptian-style oven-baking costs Dh5 and Dh8 for a kilogram.
While he was receiving his three kilograms of fish, Egyptian Waleed Abdul Qader said he also avoided city restaurants for fish, as he was unsure of the quality.
“If I want to eat fish, then this is the place I come,” said Mr Abdul Qader, who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 10 years. “Here, you buy yourself.”