A KHAWAGA'S TALE: For a loaf of bread

Peter A. Carrigan
6 Min Read

Bread is indeed scarce in Egypt. I had to ask twice for extra bread at the CityStars branch of Casper and Gambini’s on Friday, and even then it didn’t arrive.

Metro market in Zamalek is often out of brown toast. Why brown sliced bread is called brown toast is a unique use of the language. A phrase used to describe toast, not to describe sliced brown bread that has not been toasted, is yet another Al-Qahira mystery.

Real toast, now that is a treat. The Americans and British know how to toast bread soaked with butter and served golden brown on a wet Sunday morning, which is an emotion, an aroma, an experience you just can’t package.

Bread, it is such a culturally specific food. One thing that globalization will never franchise I am sure.A raft of laws governs German bread; Australian men are obsessed with the bread maker and for the French, it is a national symbol. The Chinese steam it, the Americans fry it. French toast and boiled eggs must be accompanied with little soldiers of toast in the north of England.

The bakery in the Marriott Hotel has tasty bread. But they have the whole cashier thing going on with the receipt and then you have to return to the counter to collect your bread, as the staff trips over you with kindness.

For heaven’s sake, it is only a loaf of bread.

And not a cheap loaf I might add. The Marriott loaf or the wholemeal at the Flamenco Hotel in Zamalek cost around LE 22 or 2,200 piasters each. You don’t even pay that back home.But back in Australia, where the national bread is cooked in the ground, some of my family are wheat farmers and they are banking the dough, as world wheat prices triple.They are making money hand over fist.

But don’t blame my Uncle Frank or Cousin Chris; it is the Americans who subsidize their wheat by about 30 bucks a ton. And not to mention European farm subsidies! The EU has to shoulder some of the blame for the boom in the commodities market, too.

Those chain brand coffee shops have a chewy style of bread that lives for days if not weeks in plastic wrappers. It is then microwaved or toasted to melt the cheesy filling and to freshen it up; kind of nasty actually.

Basata resort, south of Taba, has cracking bread. They bake it on site in a clay oven for breakfast and then turn out pizzas for lunch.

The Cairo cyclist balancing the slate of baladi bread on his head must be one of the most popular photos taken by tourists. An image that encapsulates the folksy feel of the streetscape that only the dusty harden traveler appreciates fully.

Except of course, those 5 piasters loaves are like gold to the millions of Egyptians living each day on the price of a Marriott loaf.

Food riots, price hikes and rumor all preceded the French Revolution. Not that Egypt is going to have a revolution – they gloriously did that – but I am waiting to read the following headline: “Baladi bread cyclist hijacked.

Bread, you see, has become a big issue in Cairo lately, if not all over Egypt.

Remember the Economist’s “Big Mac Index? It told us the Egyptian pound had plenty of purchasing power, as if it was a super-sized national currency. With basic food items increasing dramatically in price over recent months, I wonder if the Egyptian Big Mac and its triple bread bun is still one of the world’s cheapest.

Of course, back in the good ol’ days, the Biblical days that is, it rained bread in Sinai. But that was a Jewish God who pulled that off during the era of miracles, which I am afraid, has gone the way of the dinosaurs.

On the other hand, Christians teach, that “man doesn’t live by bread alone.

But it would seem from recent media reports that plenty of Egyptians do, or don’t as the case may be.There don’t seem to be that many bakeries around Cairo really. For a land that prides itself on the national loaf and it imports more wheat than any other country; you would think every second person would be a baker. There are plenty of pastry and cake shops though.

So maybe those who can’t get their mitts on the 5 piasters loaf should take Marie Antoinette’s advice and eat cake.

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