Um Amira, Cairo’s potato sandwich queen
Um Amira left Aswan 40 years ago with her husband and two daughters – Photo by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7
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CAIRO: If you are a fan of Cairo’s street food trucks, and frequent downtown, then you probably have seen Um Amira smiling behind her food cart in Tahrir Square.

A few meters away from Talaat Harb St. in Cairo’s Downtown, she toils stands next to two deep fryers, serving a hungry crowd.

Um Amira standing in front of 2 deep fryers serving the gathering near Tahrir Square on March 20, 2016 – Photo by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7  

Um Amira standing in front of 2 deep fryers serving the gathering near Tahrir Square on March 20, 2016 – Photo by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

 

Halima Mohamed, who is known as Um Amira or “Amira’s mother,” arrived to Cairo 25 years ago with her husband and two daughters from their hometown in Upper Egypt’s city of Aswan.

m Amira was not as famous when she first arrived from Aswan 25 yrs ago, photo taken on March 20, 2016. By Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7 

Um Amira was not as famous when she first arrived from Aswan 25 yrs ago, photo taken on March 20, 2016. By Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

 

She barely knew her neighbors, and Um Amira never asked for help from anyone, even when her husband suffered from a sudden heart attack, she told The Cairo Post she had to carry him on her back to the hospital.

After he was fired from his work, she became the breadwinner of the family. She began with selling biscuits and tissues, and then started street cooking.

Um Amira hit the street for cooking after she became the breadwinner of her family, photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7 

Um Amira hit the street for cooking after she became the breadwinner of her family, photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

 

Um Amira hit the street for cooking after she became the breadwinner of her family, photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7 

Um Amira hit the street for cooking after she became the breadwinner of her family, photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

 

“Every time people suggest a meal, I add it to my list. I used to cook lentil soup and then fried potatoes,” Um Amira said in an interview with The Cairo Post.

Um Amira’s fried potato sandwich, although simple, has attracted many people who are living nearby.

 

Um Amira’s stuffed- fried potato sandwich has attracted many people who are living nearby and even far off. Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7 

Um Amira’s stuffed- fried potato sandwich has attracted many people who are living nearby and even far off. Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

 

“People know me very well, many of my customers are not downtown dwellers,” she added.

Fast, cheap and filling, that’s how customers described Um Amira’s meal. Costing 2 EGP, the meal consists of Aish Balady (Egyptian oriental bread) filled with fried potatoes without any topping, salad or specific seasoning.

 

The over-filling of the fried potato sandwich has been a common remark by Um Amira’s customers, Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7 

The over-filling of the fried potato sandwich has been a common remark by Um Amira’s customers, Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

 

“One might pay at least 5 EGP for such sandwich if bought elsewhere,” a man waiting in the line referred to the affordable meal.

Per day, Um Amira says she unpacks 10-20 frozen potato cartons, each weighing 10 kg.

The over-filling of the sandwich has been a common remark among customers who praised the woman’s generosity.

“I have to feel for the others who are also working to make their living,” Um Amira said.

Um Amira filling a balady bread with fried potato to serve her customers, Photo taken March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7 

Um Amira filling a balady bread with fried potato to serve her customers, Photo taken March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

 

Um Amira’s daily routine starts at 2 a.m., where she checks the butane gas cylinder, buys potatoes and bread, and pours the frying oil, which she says she “changes regularly.”

In the last two years, Um Amira lost her husband and her daughter Amira, 21, who suffered from heart disease. Her second daughter Basma, who just turned 21, was kept out of school for three years due to a financial crisis facing the family.

The family, currently of two persons, is living on a daily wage of less than 100 EGP ($11), besides a government pension of 360 EGP per month, which “is not enough and mostly goes for Basma’s private tutors,” Um Amira said.

A daily earning of the food cart is not enough to cover Um Amira’s family’s needs. Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7 

A daily earning of the food cart is not enough to cover Um Amira’s family’s needs. Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

 

She said she has failed multiple times to rent a shop as she could not afford the rent of 5000 EGP ($563.) “How can I get all this money? If I were a drug-dealer, I would not have collected all this money each month,” she commented.

Her cart, located in front of a closed shop, could be removed anytime as a one-year notice set by the shop owner is about to end.

Um Amira could not afford to rent a shop instead of cooking on a food cart, Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7 

Um Amira could not afford to rent a shop instead of cooking on a food cart, Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

 

Um Amira phones her daughter Basma who is at school, Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7 

Um Amira phones her daughter Basma who is at school, Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

 

The woman is currently seeking to get her cart licensed “to feel secure” and prevent any potential displacement by police.

Um Amira speaking to The Cairo Post’s reporter Nourhan Magdi next to her food cart, Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

Um Amira speaking to The Cairo Post’s reporter Nourhan Magdi next to her food cart, Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

 

Um Amira despite her suffering has always kept a satisfying smile on her face while serving customers along with her assistant Hany, whom she playfully likens to Turkish President Erdogan, swearing there is a resemblance.

Um Amira’s assistant, Hany, whom she likens to Erdogan, Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7 

Um Amira’s assistant, Hany, whom she likens to Erdogan, Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

 

Diners usually stand in two rows to be served the mouth-watering meal, as a tradition set by Um Amira who says she is always watchful for pickpocketers and harassers sneaking into the lines.

Um Amira starts her daily routine at 2 a.m. to buy the bread and prepare the cart, Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7 

Um Amira starts her daily routine at 2 a.m. to buy the bread and prepare the cart, Photo taken on March 20, 2016 by Ahmed Maarouf/Youm7

 

Egyptian women are the main breadwinners of around 30 percent of families, according to previous statements by the National Council for Women’s Rights.

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