Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013

Ahram Weekly

Like beans, like sushi

Eating out may be getting more and more expensive, but it can remain good business for the otherwise unemployed

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feat22
Al-Ahram Weekly

Dina Ezzatlooks at the diverse challenges of putting food on the table, from the point of view of the consumer as well as the producer

They are both called Mohamed. Both are in their 20s, and both are residents of poorer neighbourhoods of Cairo suburbs. The first, Mohamed Hussein, a graduate of law, lives near Heliopolis in eastern Cairo. The second, Mohamed Ali, a graduate of Arabic studies, lives in Mohandessin in western Cairo.

Both young men, having graduated and failed to find the jobs they wanted, decided to opt for whatever was available. Hussein found a job as a waiter in one of the Heliopolis cafés, but only for a short time before he had to help out in the now-fashionable sushi bars that many cafés and restaurants have been introducing.

“It was awful at first, having to work with all the raw fish. I hated the smell, and I was also worried about losing tips. But I realised that I would get a higher salary, given the fact that making sushi requires more skill than serving coffee,” Hussein said.

Hussein was trained at the hands of an Egyptian sushi chef who had worked under a Japanese chef in one of Cairo’s five-star hotels that Hussein today is also hoping to work at.

“Of course, we realised from the beginning that we were not doing things exactly as would be done in the big hotels, and we improvised with the ingredients quite often. But ultimately the final product has to be fresh and appealing, even if we are not very orthodox about the recipes,” Hussein said.

Hussein has never developed a taste for sushi — “in fact I stopped eating fish altogether,” he said — and he has never really understood why people would spend over LE500 for a meal that he says “cannot sustain anybody for long”.

Over recent weeks, Hussein has seen fewer sushi-eaters at the Heliopolis café where he works. “We had to increase our prices as the ingredients had become a lot more expensive and so had the running costs of the restaurant. Everything has been getting more expensive,” he said.

At the beans trolley-bar run by Mohamed Ali, a client enjoying a brunch of a plate of beans covered with olive oil and topped with a green salad with onions is also making the same complaint of “everything getting more expensive”.

The client, Abdallah, a worker in a Mohandessin bank, used to get this very same dish with two loaves of Egyptian bread for LE2. Today, prices have increased by 50 per cent, something that makes him think twice about taking this brunch that keeps him going before it is time for a cooked dinner at home.

Ali, who has been serving food off the trolley-bar for three years, agrees that this year’s rise is the highest he has had to make. There have been times before when he has had to raise his prices, but “this time everything is getting more expensive so there had to be a raise,” he says.

The increase is not just because of the price of the beans that he prepares himself because it is cheaper than buying them from cooked beans outlets. “The oil is more expensive, the vegetables are more expensive, and everything else including the soap to wash the dishes and the spoons are also more expensive,” Ali said.

Ali is expecting another rise in prices soon. He has been dependent on the five-piastre loaf, which is going to be harder to get as the Ministry of Supplies is considering a new scheme of relating the sale of subsidised bread to family consumption alone.

Ali is not worried about losing his clients because beans are “the least expensive things to eat”. In fact, as the prices of cheese, jam and halawa have increased, Ali, who stands every morning at the end of Gameat Al-Dowal Al-Arabiya Street in Mohandessin, has been gaining some of the clients of a nearby trolley-bar that sells cheese, jam and halawa sandwiches.

What Ali has seen, however, is a change in the style of consumption. “Some people who used to order a big dish with salad are now making do with a small dish with no salad. It is things like that that one sees happening,” he said.

 

 

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