(MENAFN - Arab News) Economics affect culture and the recent increase in the price of flour along with the new Ministry of Labor expatriate levy are taking a toll on the quality and quantity of Tandoori bread, leaving the Kingdom's South Asian community to reconsider its role in their daily lives.
Commonly known as Tandoor Roti and baked in gas-fired Tandoor or clay oven, is a staple in Pakistan and major parts of India and other south Asian countries.
Even in Kerala which is known for rice people are increasingly consuming bread in order to maintain a healthy level of cholesterol. "Instead of eating rice at night, my wife and I prefer bread," says Abdul Naser of Kerala.
Neighborhood ovens and all south Asian restaurants also bake and sell the bread but the majority of them are not registered with the Grain Silos and Flour Mills Organization and are not able to use the required flour from there.
Compared with modern baked goods and pastries, the consumption of traditional tandoor is low, mainly because of logistical issues.
The traditional Pakistani Tandoor bakers depended upon middlemen who deliver the required floor often at high prices.
Saudi Arabia has the highest subsidy in the world for wheat flour and it imports the lion's share of wheat from abroad, mainly from Europe and Canada. After milling, it is sold at SR 22 for a 45-kilo with a subsidy of SR. 52 to its registered customers, where baked goods make up more than half of their business. The Tandoori shop owners used to purchase it at a price of SR 30 until December 2012. Since then there has been a drastic rise in the price of flour. It went up to SR 50 for a 45-kilo bag in the period of one month.
There were reports that wheat flour reached a price of SR65 for a 45-kilo bag but most Pakistani bakers said that did not pay more than SR50.
Mohammed Zubair of Tandoor in north Jeddah, who supplies bulk quantities of Tandoori bread to various large scale labor camps, said that the price of SR 50 is likely to continue for awhile. Many local restaurants and bakers prefer flour from Qasim and Tabuk rather than from Jeddah.
The proposed labor ministry expat levy of SR2400 is worrisome to bakers and restaurants as the majority of them are maintained by expatriates.
Taking into account these factors many Tandoors and restaurants have reduced the size of their bread. The Roti (bread) is circular in shape and usually with an approximatediameter of 200 mm and a thickness of 20 mm. Now, however, it has been reduced to a diameter of 150 mm and a thickness of 10-15 mm.
Complaining about the decreasing size of the bread, Mohammed Shabbir said, "Even if the prices of bread had not been raised for some time, the size of the bread was reduced long ago."
The retail price has risen, as well. It used to be four pieces for SR1, but now SR1 fetches only three pieces of Roti.
Apart from these traditional Tandoor and Indian sub-continent restaurants, other bakeries are also reducing the size of their bread.
Parata, another type of bread made with super-fine flour and fried with oil, is widely eaten by Indian expatriates. It used to be three pieces for SR1 but now that gets only two pieces. Tameez, clay-oven bread baked by Afghans, remains at the same price but with reduced size.
Recently, an official from the Ministry of Commerce lamented the inability to monitor the size of bread.
It is interesting to note that fresh wheat flour prices and supplies in retail markets have remained stable, averaging SR15 for a 5-kilogram bag after milling. A loaf of slice bread also remained stable at SR3.
The local harvest of wheat in several regions of Saudi Arabia is also playing a significant role in meeting the domestic requirements.
Saudi Arabia has decided to discourage the cultivation of wheat gradually and fully depend on imports. According to the Saudi Grain Silos and Flour Mills Organization policy, by 2016 local harvesting will be phased out completely and only imports will serve local demand.