Generally resistant to change, most Egyptians won’t substitute their beef and poultry for this healthier alternative: ostrich meat. But for those who enjoy this delicacy, there may be a chance they could order it from the menu of some restaurants – if they still offer it, that is.
Having lived abroad for the past few years, I never imagined I could see ostriches in Egypt anywhere outside the Giza Zoo. But I was surprised to hear that Egyptian deserts are currently dotted with ostrich farms and that there’s a growing demand for this expensive meat.
Yet I was told by maitre d’s of some five-star hotels that primarily serve delicacies, that ostrich meat was once part of their steak house menu but that it was removed after the avian flu attack and because restaurants are always changing their menus.
Investigating further, I was not surprised to hear that after selling very well at hotels and hypermakrets, ostrich meat was no longer available. At Metro, Alfa and other reputed chains I was told by some they had never dealt in that protein-rich item, while others pointed out that it was available for a short time then supplies suddenly stopped.
The reasons for that could be numerous.
As the industry launched, a couple ostriches cost between LE 25, 000 and LE 35,000 – consumers would naturally think twice before they ventured into buying the produce of such a costly investment. Some were encouraged to buy a quarter kilo just to familiarize themselves with the new product they only get to see on TV than on a plate, said one beef-seller at a supermarket.
Ostrich luncheon was priced at LE 50 per kilo, ostrich roast beef at LE 80, while a serving at a posh hotel would cost LE 150.
That said, many people could have been motivated to make ostrich part of their diet – that is, the meat is cholesterol-free. But in a country where people are less health conscious and where diet food is too expensive, most were not tempted.
For a while, the well-to-do boasted it as a status symbol, like caviar and champagne, but making it part of their diet was never on the agenda. Surprisingly, the wealthy seem to be the least concerned when it comes to healthy eating.
“I can afford it, says Sumia Amer, a Maadi resident. “It’s tasty but I don’t think one day it will be part of my diet like meat or chicken. Forget about ostriches, we are relatively used to eating turkey, but it doesn’t mean I will eat it everyday. Some food is made for special events.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s dry climate is ideal for breeding ostriches, and compared to other alternatives, its profit margin is relatively high.
So as an industry that broke into Egyptian deserts by the end of 1990s, ostriches will continue to thrive. But the produce will be directed towards international markets where it is bound to be more competitive than in Egypt because it could take people decades to think of ostriches the way they think of turkeys.
But for now, the few who crave ostrich meat, should keep checking in with luxury restaurants – they may just pop back on to the menu.