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Desert Gold

Chain Reaction

With the revolution, and the boost of small independent businesses across Egypt, David Blanks had hopes that the restaurant industry would improve too. Instead, the chains are taking over...

Oh good. A Beano’s has opened on Road 90 near Future University and AUC. Just what the students and faculty needed. Now when they get bored with the nearby L’Aroma, Cilantro, Pottery Café, Coffeeshop Company and Costa Coffee, they will have somewhere to go.

Dining choices on this end of Road 90 are equally happy. McDonald’s, Chili’s, Subway, Beirut Express, Abu Shakra, and Studio Misr are already there; and now Americana is building a new plaza next to Meeting Point that will include Pizza Hut, Hardee’s, Chicken Tikka, KFC, and God knows what other horrors. How did we get ourselves into this mess?

I blame the ancient Egyptians. They were the ones who invented farming, which allowed them to grow an excess of food. This quickly led to an increase in population, cities, writing, government, war, the automobile, satellite television, social media, consumerism, and the fast food restaurant. Which means, sadly, that our still stone-age bodies, which naturally crave fat and sugar, are living in a modern global society where we can get our greedy little hands on all the fat and sugar we can possibly want.

We have become the first species ever in the history of the planet to eat when we’re not hungry and drink when we’re not thirsty. Back in the day, if we wanted a fat and sugar fix, we had to get our buddies together, drive some woolly mammoths off a cliff, and send our women out for some beehives. Now we roll over and dial 19991.

And it is survival for the fittest in the restaurant business as well. These chains have killed off the competition. Occasionally a La Bodega or a Trattoria will manage to survive, which is a testament to the owners’ business savvy, and to a certain amount of luck; but for the most part all the independent stand-alone restaurants of any interest have, like the woolly mammoth, met their fate in the ongoing food and beverage war of the jungle. What remain are local chains that approximate the international ones and serve the same, boring standardised, usually sub-standard fare. Places like Spectra and FIG Lounge come immediately to mind.

Why am I down on this? Because it is not real food (And by real I mean fresh, wholesome fare that your grandmother would recognise). And it is not healthy. And most of all because it is uninventive, unoriginal, uninteresting and undemocratic in the sense that we are deprived of healthy, original, environmentally sustainable alternatives. The fajita is an abomination, the Tex-Mex equivalent of the Philadelphia roll, mixing together ingredients that should never be combined, namely cheese with meat, chicken or fish. It’s unnatural.

It gets worse when we leave town for summer vacation. North, south, east, west: it doesn’t matter: the restaurants in Porto Marina and Porto Sokhna are all the same and they all suck. Soon we will also have Porto Matrouh, Porto Pyramids, Porto Sharm, Porto October and, just in case the students and faculty of FUE, GUC and AUC don’t already have enough fat and sugar available to them, Porto New Cairo. Why don’t they just build a Porto Potty and be done with it?  

I had hopes that after the revolution we would see a growth spurt in local, homegrown businesses, but they have been choked off like so many weeds in the marketplace, and now the new Lebanese, Syrian, Indian and Asian restaurants are mostly international chains too. We are witnessing the Emiratisation of Egypt, and there is little we can do about it except to stay away from them and to support our small, independent, local, family-owned businesses. Sometimes the hard part though is knowing which is which. My simple rule of thumb? Never eat in a place that has pictures of its food on the menu. Truth to power. 


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