During Ramadan, all the eateries and food stalls on the streets are thronged by people right before iftar. This is the busiest hour for street vendors selling mouth-watering food. They call out to their potential customers, enticing them with the usual spicy, crispy and fried food items.
In this functional chaos, there are particular vendors offering an item that sells like hot cake, despite being cold in nature. These vendors do not need to shout out to draw customers’ attention; instead, customers make disorderly queues for them.
This much-coveted item: chunks of ice. The customer-base mostly consists of lower-income people who find solace in ice during iftar in this sweltering Ramadan.
Rickshaw-pullers, truck drivers, construction workers and bus helpers are drawn to such street vendors.
“After a long day of fasting in this intensely hot weather, these pieces of ice give me indescribable relief,” said Peyara Begum, 50, who sells “damaged” (shells somewhat broken) eggs at Begunbari Bazar in Tejgaon.
Same goes for Mostafizur, 40, a factory worker living in Kunipara of Tejgaon. “I live in a tin-shed house with my family. It gets excruciatingly hot during noon and afterwards, and we don’t own a fridge. Ice from the street vendors is a lifesaver for us.”
People like Peyara and Mostafizur buy a broken chunk of ice for Tk 5-20. They put it in their drinking water -- shared by the whole family. These families cannot afford refrigerators.
They do not care about the hygiene nor the source of the water used to make these ice bars. All they know is the ice gives them respite after a long summer day of dehydration.
There is much demand for ice in Dhaka’s slum areas, including Saat Tola and Korail in Mohakhali, Bhasantek in Mirpur, and Sarulia Bazar in Demra.
The business of ice peaks during summer months, particularly in Ramadan -- for very obvious reasons.
The ice vendors are also from lower-income background. They buy a huge ice bar from fish market or ice factory and break it into pieces before selling them. This is often a part-time trade.
Jahangir Hossain, a rickshaw -van puller, has been selling ice in Tejgaon area for about seven years during Ramadan. Every day, he spends Tk 700 to buy ice bars, and earns Tk 1,100-1,200.
“I buy ice bars from Karwan Bazar fish market and start selling chunks couple of hours before iftar. Within 2-3 hours, I run out of ice,” he said.
According to him, ice bars come in different sizes. Usually, an ice bar contains 40kg of water and costs Tk120-150. When a customer comes, he breaks a piece as per his/her demand.
The tricky part is keeping the ice intact and slowing their melting process. An experienced vendor like Jahangir uses insulators like sacks, sawdust and Styrofoam to prevent the ice from melting away.
Children and teenagers, also sell ice to make some quick cash. “We make Tk 50-60 per day and divide it amongst friends. Profit is less if the ice melts too fast,” said Russel, 12, who along with his two friends started selling ice this Ramadan after being inspired by other vendors.