All of Heliopolis and self-proclaimed foodies from other areas in the city showed up on the sunny Saturday to enjoy Cairo Bites, Cairo’s biggest food festival. Sadly, for the most part, the festival was a miss. Everyone showed up to get a glimpse of the Baron Palace, which has been long closed off to the public. To some, it was as interesting as the food.
Depending mostly on its unique location and well-known participating food suppliers, the festival exerted a lacklustre effort and failed to recognise that holding their festival at the Baron Palace did not exempt them from having to make sure the whole affair was properly organised, rather than pick a nice place and hope for the best.
In addition, the festival did not do its best to respect or protect the iconic monument. People were allowed to stand on the ledges and hug statues while taking selfies. The palace itself, of course, is already as rundown as can be, with graffiti and broken windows; however, further damage is the last thing the place needs, and while people were not allowed inside the palace itself, they were free to stand on ledges with intricate architectural features like they would on the lion statues of Qasr Al-Nil.
Granted, Cairo Bites brought together a diverse offering of food suppliers: Lychee, InterContinental, Gui Sushi, Bob’s Hotdogs, Gourmet, Paul, Kukuruza, Makani, Sattva Steps, GoodCals and more. In addition to free samples, attendees had the option to purchase entrance tickets which included vouchers, the most common of which was the EGP 95 option.
The entry price was EGP 45 and the remaining EGP 50 was divided into five EGP 10 coupons, which could be used to pay for food. Considering the prices at any of the places, EGP 50 did not make a dent in getting a proper meal that made you feel full. The exorbitant prices more often than not meant you had to whip out your wallet or purse. This, of course, was not wrong on the suppliers’ part. But the problem was that Cairo Bites made you feel you were getting a special deal, while you were actually paying much more than you would normally do and for lower quality food, because preparation in a booth does not yield the same dishes as you would be presented with in a restaurant.
Some specialty booths, like the Egyptian Chefs Association, offered cooking classes while others sold kitchen appliances. Gourmet was also preparing its own cooking classes but had not launched them yet, instead they smartly used the festival to gauge demand.
Besides being able to see the Baron Palace and some specialty booths, your cynical side might say you could probably find most of the options on offer in the nearest mall, and it would be right. The idea of Cairo Bites is excellent in theory, but with the bad organisation, cramped booths, high prices, too many people and litter everywhere, we would have rather gone to the mall.