Inside the Huge Roti-Making Operation at ‘Muslim Glastonbury’ #JalsaSalanaUK

Source: vice.com

At the yearly Ahmadiyya Muslim Community festival in Hampshire, volunteers make 300,000 flatbreads over three days.

By Dalia Dawood


I’m on a farm in England where thousands of people have come from all over the world, camping gear in tow. They’ve been waiting for this event all year. Rows of flags are billowing in the wind. Beneath them, men are prostrated in prayer. They rise when a voice calls “Allahu Akbar.” This is Jalsa Salana – or ‘Muslim Glastonbury’, as it’s also known – a three-day annual convention for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that brings together 39,000 people to a 200-acre farm in Alton, Hampshire, to learn more about the faith.

In a way, Jalsa Salana is just like Glasto except it’s been running for longer (53 years) and is a fifth of the size. Oh, and there’s no music or alcohol. OK, it’s quite different, but one common point is the abundance of food. Free hot meals are cooked and served daily on site, run entirely by volunteers. I’m here to find out how a food operation of this scale happens.

At the four pop-up kitchens, you see men everywhere. Chopping, cooking, cleaning – everything is done by more than 200 male volunteers. They get through tonnes of rice, lentils, pasta, mutton, spices. “We’re making 80,000 meals per day,” says Rafi Shah, manager of the main kitchen, casually as if that isn’t the most stressful thing in the world to be in charge of. “At times it’s tense, you’ve got so many people and things to co-ordinate. But it always comes together.”

Langar Khana UK

Langar Khana UK

The menu caters for various diets, but the traditional dish is aloo gosht (meat and potato curry). Each 50-litre pot feeds 150 people and takes three hours to make, starting with enough chopping to put your arm in a sling. Volunteers chop 30 boxes of coriander and cut 2,800 onions and potatoes, daily.

Waseem Ahmedi has endured the stifling temperatures for hours, but he greets me with a smile. “I’ve been volunteering here for 15 years,” he says. By day, he’s a police sergeant. “It’s a relaxed atmosphere because it’s so well-run.”

FATHAY RASHID WITH THE ROTI DOUGH-CUTTING MACHINE HE DESIGNED AND BUILT..png

FATHAY RASHID WITH THE ROTI DOUGH-CUTTING MACHINE HE DESIGNED AND BUILT.

He’s right – despite the pressure, there’s no Ramsay-style screaming or people having meltdowns. They work diligently as the clock ticks down to lunchtime. “Timing is everything,” states Rafi. “We have deadlines to keep – it’s more-or-less non-stop.”

The same is true of their neighbours in the roti plant. A fully-fledged bread factory is making 10,000 rotis per hour (300,000 in three days). Puffed-up pittas march along a winding conveyor belt where they are met by a small army of bread-stacking and packing troops. Machines are shaping and cooling the dough before a 350-degree furnace cooks each one in under ten seconds. I tilt my head to peek into the big clay oven – they inflate magically like pufferfish.

Another team makes a fresh batch of dough, pouring ingredients (water, flour, yeast, salt, sugar, oil) into a massive mixer. The dough is cut, boxed and labelled with the exact time, so they can monitor how long it takes to rise – one hour and 15 minutes, according to manager Agha Abid. Having an aura of cool-headedness seems key to working here; he, too, is chill. “I came up with the timing system so I can relax,” he jokes. “We turn the oven on at 3.50AM and off at 7PM – there’s no stopping in between.”

He points at the dough-cutting machine. “Me and my colleague designed and built that.” I look blankly at a huge contraption in the… read more at source.

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