On the western bank of the Nile, beneath Cairo’s congested October the 6th bridge, lies an unassuming pastry shop with a sign that reads “Miracle”.
In previous years, this hidden “gold” would have customers lining outside its door during the last 10 days of Ramadan, or even earlier, to pick up boxes of the sugarcoated kahk in preparation for Eid Al Fitr — but not this year.
“Now, there are only one or two customers at a time,” says Ismail Omar, who has been the shop's manager for about 35 years.
“In previous years, people would buy many boxes. But people have started limiting their purchases. Prices have gone up and demand has gone down.”
In Egypt, inflation has risen sharply since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year pushed up import costs, caused supply chain bottlenecks and led to a foreign currency crunch.
Annual urban inflation climbed to 32.7 per cent last month, its highest level in six years, on the back of soaring food prices linked to the decline in the value of the local currency.
The country has devalued its currency three times since last year, slicing the Egyptian pound’s value against the dollar by nearly 50 per cent.
Prices of food staples, including flour and sugar, have more than doubled.
Miracle — pronounced as a French word — has a variety of western desserts on offer, such as mille-feuille and petit fours, and savoury pastries, such as quiche and seasoned breadsticks.
Founded in 1978, the place has an outdated feel to it and is more popular with the older generation.
Its Instagram page — which was created only last year and has less than 2,000 followers — says “old is gold”.
The shop is famous for its kahk, the crumbly biscuits made with flour, sugar, yeast, milk and ghee and coated with powdered sugar.
“All of our ingredients are natural and we use [traditional] balady ghee. We don’t mix. Other places use artificial ghee and oils,” Omar says.
The biscuits are customarily filled with dates, a gel of starch and a sugar called malban, nuts or nut paste.
Last year, Miracle sold one kilo of plain kahk for 200 Egyptian pounds, when the pound was at about 18 against the US dollar. This year a kilo of plain kahk costs 380 pounds ($12).
The rise in price is more noticeable with kahk filled with walnuts and pistachios at 600 and 700 Egyptian pounds this year, compared with 250-400 pounds last year.
Miracle is more expensive than other pastry shops, including El Abd patisserie, which has several branches and offers a kilogram mixed kahk box for 190 pounds. Its walnut and pistachio varieties go for 220-240 pounds.
Many households, especially in the countryside, opt to make Eid kahk at home as a family tradition or to save money.
Miracle’s crammed shop is stacked with boxes, filling the display cases and every corner of the shop. In the kitchen, workers roll out dough and stuff the biscuits like a factory assembly line.
In a normal year, Miracle would cap advance orders on the 18th day of Ramadan and the shop would sell out well before the first day of Eid.
“I doubt that will happen this year,” Omar says.