Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-
Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-

Ahram Weekly

How the cookie crumbles

With many Egyptian women having less and less time to prepare family meals, is traditional cooking disappearing from Egypt’s kitchens, asks Mai Samih

Al-Ahram Weekly

Working women are sometimes blamed for not being good mothers on the grounds that they are too distracted from their children by work. The fact is that they can be far too busy multi-tasking to focus on anything, let alone their families, and more and more women have been obliged to take up this multi-tasking way of life.
Because of the current economic crisis, as a result of which many men have had to take on extra shifts in order to provide a decent life for their families, women have been obliged to organise extra activities to help their families succeed in life.
They can now spend countless hours running around crowded streets shopping for their children, and then stay up late helping them do apparently endless homework. These are the same women who have to organise sports schedules, music lessons, sleep-overs and children’s birthday parties.
As a result, more and more housewives today, whether they are also working or whether they spend their days at home, are resorting to ready-made meals because of their lack of time. Another factor that may encourage working mothers to buy such products is the advertisements that depict images of happy families eating such meals together, with smiling models seen preparing the dinners for their families.
The business of making ready-made convenience food is booming. More and more shops are specialising in food like ready-prepared vine leaves stuffed with rice, or part-cooked chicken, or even ready-made molokhiya and kofta. Itinerant sellers have taken up their places in front of government buildings to sell vegetables ready prepared for cooking.
Hagga Amal, 32, has been selling ready-prepared vegetables for 10 years now in a market in Ramses Street from 10am to 5pm every day. She deals with many types of customers and caters for their other needs as well.
“My customers ask for ready-washed vegetable that they can use to make vegetable soup, stuffed vegetables or mahashi, so I prepare bags of assorted chopped vegetables ready to be cooked,” Amal says, who deals with a range of customers from different backgrounds.  
Her customers are both rich and poor, and mostly they are working women and housewives. Amal reassures any sceptical customers who believe that her products are not of the highest quality. “I get fresh vegetables every day, and at the end of the day I give what I have not sold to the needy,” she says, pointing to a metal container containing bags of vegetables that are past their best.
Amal also sells ready-cooked sweets like katayef and konafa in Ramadan. She has a booming business in dried foods well-known in Egypt’s countryside, like sheareya and kishk, as well as in the feteer meshaltet pies.
The sales manager of Matbakh Set Al-Beit, a restaurant preparing ready-prepared food, agrees, adding that there is now a real demand for ready-prepared dishes like mahashi, mombar, kobeiba, sambousak and stuffed vine leaves. “Seventy-five per cent of our customers are working women who have no time to cook these dishes for their families on their own,” he says.
Noha, a housewife and the mother of three, admits that she resorts to ready-cooked food because she always finds herself in a rush, especially during school term. “I help my children study all day and have no time for cooking decent meals. Besides, the children like the ready-prepared meals,” she says.
Another working woman, a civil servant who did not want to give her name, said that she had a very busy schedule and barely had the time to prepare dinner for her family. As a result, she often resorts to ready-prepared meals.
“I buy the food I don’t have time to prepare myself, like warak einab (vine leaves), hollowed-out aubergine ready to be stuffed with rice, or ready plucked molokhiya leaves.” Her family does not object, she says, and family members even encourage her to buy ready-made meals.

Tips for a good table

Eman Naguib, 44, a pharmacist, has a full-time job and is the mother of two children. As a result, she has a very tight schedule and sometimes barely has the time to cook. However, she has various tips that assist her in always keeping a good table at home.  
“I take advantage of my days off to prepare and season meat or chicken I am planning to grill one day in advance,” she says. She usually wakes up at 5am to make breakfast for her family and begin cooking dinner as well.
“I always prepare the vegetables as well as tomato sauce over the weekends, so these can be ready to be cooked on week days,” she says. Naguib recommends keeping fresh vegetables for salad at home for healthy dinners, and adds that she tries to go shopping for essential vegetables, meat and fruit a day before the weekend so that everything is ready to be prepared later.
As for types of food like mahashi and makarona bel-bashamel, she thinks that making these dishes should be done over holiday periods, as preparing them during the working week can be very tiring. “If you have sudden visitors, you can always go to the supermarket to get ready-prepared food. It is ok to do this in emergencies,” Naguib says.
Marwa Salah, 44, a civil servant and the mother of two, has to cope on a limited budget. “At the beginning of the season, some types of vegetable are expensive,” she says, “so you should buy frozen ones instead.” She buys many kilos of tomatoes when are cheap and then freezes them for later use.
Among the tips that Salah has for other hard-pressed housewives are:
- Buy your requirements of meat and poultry on a monthly basis, and store any surplus in the freezer.
- Buy fast food that is on sale: it is usually cost-effective and will go down well with the children.
- Ask the children what they would like to eat a day or two in advance so that you can save time and money and don’t prepare unwanted food. If you are not good at cooking meat, or if you don’t like staying a long time in the kitchen, buy ready-cooked or grilled meat instead.
- Always try to find a day or two a week when you don’t cook and serve ready-prepared meals instead.


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