Inflation-hit consumers struggle to find substitutes for costly cooking ingredients

Published March 23, 2023
The indispensable onion is being sold at a shop. —Fahim Siddqi / White Star
The indispensable onion is being sold at a shop. —Fahim Siddqi / White Star

KARACHI: During the month of Ramazan, people experience price hike in food products every year, particularly of those that are commonly consumed at homes, restaurants, cafes and caterers during this period.

According to data issued by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the food inflation rate in February, on year-on-year basis, rose to 47 per cent in rural areas, whereas in urban areas it was recorded at 41.9pc.

Dawn asked caterers whether it was possible to use alternatives or substitutes to basic cooking ingredients like cooking oil, onion, and tomatoes.

Hasnain Haider, manager of Burns Road’s famous “Food Centre” said that they could not use any alternative to tomatoes, onions and cooking oil, because any alternative would affect the taste of their dishes.

While there’s no alternative to some basic ingredients, experts suggest a few budget-friendly tips for affordable cooking

“And we cannot compromise on taste,” he added.

He also expressed his concerns over the all-time high inflation and said as it happens during every Ramazan, prices would go high but the management would have to bear all this. Once Ramazan is over, prices would come down, he added.

Similarly, Mohammad Wasim, owner of a Pakwan centre named “Rohaib Pakwan centre” located in North Karachi, said the “costliest ingredient these days is the cooking oil and ghee, for which we are trying our best to save as much as we can”, and to do it we are utilising “meat that is full of fat”.

“By doing so, the fat of the meat turns into oil and then it helps to have the food cooked nicely, making its smell and taste more enhanced than with normal cooking oil/ghee,” said Wasim, adding that he even suggested to buy fatty meat to those customers who themselves brought meat after buying it from somewhere else.

When asked about what could be used as a substitute to the milk while making desserts that required milk in abundance, he remarked that “dry/powder milk has become our priority in order to save the cost of desserts, especially with Kheer and Cocktail,” he added.

Babar Iftikhar, a seasoned professional with seven years of experience in the field of culinary, has obtained a diploma in Culinary Art from the United Kingdom. He suggests that yoghurt can be used as an alternative to tomatoes in certain recipes. He also recommends preserving tomatoes by making a paste and freezing it into cubes, with one tomato cube being equivalent to one tablespoon.

While speaking about possible substitutes for onion, Mr Iftikhar, who is currently serving as the campus manager at Skillston, said that there was no true replacement for this essential ingredient.

He explained that fried onions were available in the market and could be used as a substitute if they were more cost-effective than fresh onions, he urged that they may not be suitable for all types of dishes.

“It is important to know that fried onions may provide a similar flavour but it may not be appropriate for every recipe,” he said.

During Ramazan, the demand for cooking oil increases exponentially in the country. Mr Iftikhar said that there was no real substitute for it. However, he recommended utilising an air fryer machine, which requires significantly less oil compared to traditional cooking methods.

“By using an air fryer, one can reduce the amount of oil used in cooking,” he said.

“Homemade butter can be utilised as a substitute for some food items,” he added.

In many Far Eastern countries, rice flour is commonly used as coating for fried foods instead of gram flour. Mr Iftikhar emphasised that gram flour contains protein, whereas rice flour is primarily composed of carbohydrates. Additionally, he noted that in the subcontinent, pakora is typically coated in gram flour rather than rice flour.

A housewife, Rubina, is passionate about cooking and has honed her skills for many years, and had been supplying homemade food to various shopkeepers for the last four years.

Now she has been forced to close her business due to hyperinflation in the country.

“Due to inflation, shopkeepers are no longer buying food from us. Instead, they are giving 100 rupees to each employee for food”, she said.

“I had saved 700 rupees per day for the past three years, but in the last year, I had only managed to save 300 rupees per day, and this amount does not include the cost of the gas cylinder,” she added.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2023

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