Saturday, September 01, 2007

Fast Food & Algeria

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.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

im sure you are prostituate and algerian men fuck you and they did not pay you. isnt it

Sencha said...

Anonymous,

Unfortunately, I cannot restrict people from leaving comments on my blog. If I could, people with IQ below 30 who cannot spell are not allowed to leave comments.

By the way, are you a bad Algerian?

Anonymous said...

Score mate you had burgers and fast food since you were a kid... that obviously makes you much better than algerians??? how stupid is this? When you read what you wrote did it make you feel good? in fact did you even try to understand why there are no fast foods in algeria or does this require too much brains which surely you don't have.

Sencha said...

My response:

http://36jukyuslater.blogspot.com/2008/06/negative-feedback.html

Anonymous said...

you, the editor of this blog ,, """Fuck U very very very hard """
-U have how Many time in your life to write a blog too long about we algerien
U must Crazy
I repeat "FACK U">>>son of a put
>>>> leave this blog <<<<
I am 00zer0
00zer0@live.fr
va te faire foutre t'es un malade

Sencha said...

Dear 00zer0,

Thanks for reading my blog. But
no thanks for your offensive comments.

Your words don't make sense.

What are your reasons if you disagree with what I blogged?

Why can't I blog about my experience in Algeria?

Are there any reasons I should stop blogging about Algeria?

You have no right to stop me from blogging about Algeria.

If you come to my country, you can blog anything about my country. Good or bad.

I don't care even though I hold my own opinions.

P.Abinnader said...

Hey....i just found out about this blog...and i appear in some of the events ...especially in Algeria....the guest house..cheraga and "palam beach"...the maid helping cleaning the kitchen cabinets (stealing is the word in other parts), enjoying the comfort of Air Algerie...etc.etc...very accurate and i just want to give my and opinion to the pathetic guy that signs up as "anonymous"..it seems that the poor fella is one of those that has not been able to travel more than 50 km from the slump he lives.. therefore he sees his town as the best place on earth and no one can say anything different...he just can use vulgar languaje that he has learnt while watching pirate dvd's and he can ot make sense..so my advice is to study more.....and try to see the real world...u r very close..just need to cross the mediterranean sea...refugees can get free education..i hope u can improve ur spelling...

Sencha said...

Hi p.abinnader,

Thanks for your comments.

I have returned to my home country and my blog is closed but I still welcome comments.

I think we both agree that SOME Algerians tend to have that "frog in well" narrow-minded thinking.

A frog living in a well will think that the well is the best place in the world while it is oblivious to the greater world beyond the well.

Then again it is just as well that the cold damp well is the most suitable living conditions for the frog. It may not adapt well to the outside world without a proper mindset.

I have also met other well-educated Algerians who are open-minded and humble during my stay in Algeria. So as you said education is the key.

What we can take away from this is that we should always strive to balance between being proud about our own ways and culture while remaining open to receiving new ideas and ways of looking at things. So we may also avoid thinking like the frog in the well.

Anonymous said...

why are people so critic-like of peoples blogs??? sorry about that guy or girl...i really liked your blog...

Anonymous said...

A female family member of mine recently traveled to Algeria and can totally confirm your perceptions on the lack of hygiene and the wide spread ignorance thereof . She went to several local diners because her host wanted to "treat" her to dinner as much as she liked.
She was more comfortable eating in the home of the host because of the hygiene issues. Among her complaints were that the bathrooms were very unsanitary and lacked soap for hand washing. Toilet paper is non-exsistent and their were numerous flies.There was soap at the hosts home and a clean bathroom and no flies.
You do the math. If you are muslim and use your left hand to clean your bottom after a bowel movement, what do you clean your hand with before you eat or work in a place like this if there is no soap?
I do not like the idea of having fecal matter in my food. Thats all im saying. I do not wish any disrespect to muslims or to the people of Algeria by the way. I just disagree strongly with these unhygenic practices as does my sister. -MrEnglishj@netscape.net

quanton said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Kaylee

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bathmate said...

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Bathmate

Anonymous said...

Hey retard...you need to go back to your cubicle...in sterile singapore. Learn to respect the local culture or pack up your bags and fuck off. Please take this advice...For your own good...look in the mirror...and keep your thoughts to yourself. McD's is your idea of 'food'??!!?! It's the nexus of all things wrong with food!

FYI...I am an expat in Singapore and all of the three times I ate at a hawker center I ended up,with an up with an upset stomach...MSG is not the answer to everything!

os ruka said...

well i have read your blog about my countrey and about fast food, i'm algerian and i respect your point of view but i think you show algerians as a barbarians and this is realy bad because i think you didn't knew anything about algeria or algerians or there culture very well also you didn't tast the great algerian food and that's not good , second you should talk about fast food frenshises in algeria and why there are no mc donalds or KFC or what ever "your main subject" , in the end you should stay in Singapore .