There has been some speculation on why there is no proper fast food in Algeria. I'm talking here about big franchises like MacDonald's or Burger King with their standardized menus and ubiquitous restaurant outlets that are encroaching on the modern and traditional alike, thereby, ruining the historical picturesqueness of some places.
One plausible explanation was that there is a lack of freeze storage technology nor stable electricity supply that fast food chains like MacDonalds require to store their ingredients. Possibly also, there is a lack of trustworthy local ingredients supply (Algerian don't usually consider time nor quality to be essential).
Maybe it's a good thing that there is no MacDonalds or KFC. Academics has warned about the dangers of over-rationalization as exemplified by the rapid institutionalization of fast food and eating habits in society (see Weber's Protestant Ethics, 1958; Rizter's MacDonaldization, 1993; Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, 2001). Too much of something is obviously, no good.
Don't get me wrong, there has been fast food in Algeria for as long as anyone can remember. It is not difficult to get your hands on a hamburger with fries and coke from a local store, shamelessly named McMadrid or McQuince. The local fare is unfortunately sans taste and hygiene, in the "man, my burger is dripping oil and the meat patty looks suspicious" kind of way. (if you want a comparison, it's like Ramli burger sold along a ulu street enroute to KL BUT much much more awful tasting and messier!)
Anyway, depending on your perspective, it may be a bane or a boon when you cannot find the familiar golden arches everytime you turn the corner. For a person far away from home, I just want to sink my teeth into something familiar, something that is reminiscent of familiar times, with a predictable taste and quality.
I mean, a Big Mac should taste, smell and look almost similar whether purchased from an outlet in modern metropolitan Shinjuku or from an outlet in down-trodden, desolated slum of Southern Namibia. One can argue until the cows come home about the taste and quality of a Big Mac but we would be digressing.
So it is not an exaggeration to say that social change has finally arrived with the first opening of a Quick outlet in July 2007 at Ben Mhidi, Algiers.
Quick is a Belgian fast food restaurant chain similar to MacDonald's and has 400 restaurants located in Belgium, France and Luxemburg. It has made plans for 20 outlets in Algeria for the next 5 years, with the next outlet opening in Sidi Yahia.
Given the present situation, it wouldn't hurt abit if Algerians could learn a little bit more standards in food preparation and storage from the fast food MNCs. Food poisoning is a serious problem in Algiers due to lack of knowhow in food storage and the unhygienic way of preparing food. (http://www.algeria-events.com/article867.html). Every expat colleague of mine has experienced different degrees of food poisoning while in Algeria making the term halal food rather meaningless.
Often we encounter local restaurants that are simply no longer interested in improving their menu and customer service to woo customers anymore. The emergence of a fast food industry in Algeria will most probably drive competition up, forcing the local business to either level-up or go out of business.
Our Visit to Quick
Deepsixed, Pablo, Felix and me visited the first Quick outlet in Algiers downtown one evening. Was too busy to blog about it until now.
Like any fast food restaurant in other parts of the world, it was crowded with teenagers and families. Although the facade doesn't look like anything special but this IS the first burger restaurant brand owned by an MNC in the history of Algeria. (And we were there, Wow!)
We had to fight the queue in order to order our dinners from the counter. Algerians queue like the way they drive (me first! me first!). There is no respect of proper queueing, people are cutting queues and elbowing each other. It was so frustrating that I forgot to take a picture of the chaos at the counter. Since I grew up taking MacDonalds for granted and these Algerians had been waiting their entire lifetime to eat foreign brand burgers, I relented and allowed some of them cut my queue.
When it was my turn to order, the cashier was able to take my order for four persons correctly amidst the din the shoving crowd was creating (Incredible!). When she returned with our food, she had forgotten to give us fries, which is a typical Algerian habit of not delivering on promise. Anyway, deepsix reminded her and she quickily rectify the mistakes on the spot. A historical achievement for Algerian service industry!
Doesn't my burger and fries look neat or what? It has been a long time since I came across a burger that is nice prepared and neatly wrapped (if the ones in hotel restaurants are to be excluded). Interestingly, my colleague ordered Quick's signature burger, Giant, but it appears to be no bigger than all the other burgers on the menu. Giant is the name but do not necessary refer to the size, I was told later.
I saw a staff in the restaurant who was distributing balloons to children of the customers in the restaurant. Many patrons were approaching him to ask for free balloons, even asking for those that are not yet inflated. I presume that many of these people were asking for balloons for their kids, their next door neighbour's kids, their cousin's kids in the next wilaya, their former room-mate's kids or something.
Again, things that we took so much for granted, they are special here. I later heard that this is probably the first incident of free balloon giveaway in Algiers. Maybe the Algerians had never been able to buy balloons or get a free one before this.