Thursday, March 22, 2007

Profile: Baghdad Baker

Abdul Hussain Shakarchi, 62, started learning the bakery trade from his uncle when he was seven. Nowadays, he supervises the making of baklava, Turkish delight, halva and other traditional sweets at his factory in Baghdad.

The BBC reports:
Some of our customers come from as far away as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

We make sure our sweets have a good flavour. We make our baklava with animal fat and we flavour it with cardamom. We use good quality pistachio nuts.

If we don't think it's good enough, we throw it away immediately. We won't sell sub-standard baklava to our customers.

Iraqis are very fond of sweet things, especially during special occasions such as the month of Ramadan.

One of the changes we have seen since 2003 is the rise in the price of fuel. This has affected the price of our products.

We need liquid gas for the cookers and kerosene for the ovens. And we need diesel fuel for the generators.

The other thing is that we have quite limited working hours.

We used to start at eight in the morning and close at midnight. Now we close at five in the evening.

But we struggle on.

Customer loyalty

We have more customers than we did four years ago.

We used to sell between 20-25 trays of baklava a day - now it's more than 50 a day.

People can't go out in the evening anymore, so they tend to stay at home and eat sweet things.

That's one way they can still enjoy themselves - through what they eat.

Some bakers have started to cheat in the way they make sweets. They have started to mix vegetable oil with the animal fat.

Customers travel long distances to buy Abdul's sweets

But we have stuck to the traditional recipes and ingredients.

Once we finish work we go straight home. I don't allow any member of my family to go out because we would worry about them. I don't go anywhere either.

The presence of coalition troops is not in our interest.

They attack many people. Once they hit my car, but I didn't say anything to them.

And they speak rudely - Iraqis don't approve of that. I would rather they speak softly to people.

It's true they helped rid us of the old regime and of that criminal Saddam. But now they've made things worse.