Fruit and veg are largely seasonal in Egypt – though the season may be considerably extended nowadays as some crops are grown under cover, and new varieties have been introduced. Still, the pick-up trucks loaded with produce that are stationed at strategic locations (like the roundabout!) near our home, or on the streets leading to Cairo’s ring-road, usually give you a pretty good idea of what’s in and what’s not.
You can have some fun doing the seasonal thing, and I enjoy the challenge of cooking according to what’s available. Come May, blink and you’ve missed the apricots, for example. But if you get it right, the jam is to die for!
More seriously, it’s also a salutary reminder of the reality of life for agriculturalists here. Just at the moment, the glut of tomatoes means the price is down to 50 piastres – yes, piastres – a kilo. That’s about 5 British pence or 8 US cents. Factor in the cost of petrol to transport them from the countryside and the question is, how can farmers hope to make a living? I’ve heard a figure of 40% of the population here living on less than $2 a day. Much of the poverty we see is urban, as we live and work in Cairo; but a journey into the countryside confirms at once that deprivation there is just as serious a problem.
Back to the tomatoes, and you might prefer to opt for organic. That means a price closer to EG£10 for a kilo of the locally grown, and a trip to one of the smart international supermarkets around Cairo to find what you want. The tomatoes will come in a plastic tray, washed and shiny and covered in cling-film. Not warm from the sun, with splashes from the field, and tumbled into a plastic bag from a truck at the edge of the street.
Still, what price your seasonal produce?