Saudi food truckers tickling your taste buds can’t find a recipe for parking

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Food trucks doing brisk business at a street in Riyadh. AN photos by Huda Bashatah
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Youngsters enjoy at a food joint in Riyadh.
Updated 31 May 2018

Saudi food truckers tickling your taste buds can’t find a recipe for parking

  • Pop-up kitchens on wheels have become part of the popular Saudi culture
  • Just like any other business, food trucks have regulations and licensing that owners need to follow in order to operate a food truck.

RIYADH: Food trucks are fast becoming a key feature of the Saudi streets. These mobile food outlets have become a lucrative business in major urban centers across the Kingdom.

It would not be wrong to say that these food trucks have become part of the popular Saudi culture. Only a few years ago, such outlets used to serve the needs of people working blue-collar jobs but today it has become a trend and these eateries are as valued as high-end restaurants.
With a wide variety of foods to offer, this business is gaining popularity among young entrepreneurs mainly because of the minimal costs as compared to setting up a proper restaurant. Yet when it comes to setting up the business, it turns out that it is not as simple as buying a truck and selling food.
Just like any other business, food trucks have regulations and licensing that owners need to follow in order to operate a food truck.
Cities like Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam have regulations for establishing a food truck business in order to obtain a license. There are also regulations for the vehicles, governing safety, size and sanitation. However, rules about where and when to park these mobile eateries appear to be the most difficult for the owners.
Abdulaziz Al-Qahtani, owner of a food truck in Riyadh that specializes in coffee, told Arab News about how owners struggle with the city’s municipal regulations, describing the process of opening a food truck as difficult as opening a regular outlet. But the most difficult part was finding a spot to park the truck.
He said: “They do not have clear guidelines where food trucks can stop or cannot stop,” he said. “It will be better for the city’s municipality to have a spot fixed for food trucks in different parts of Riyadh.”  
Another entrepreneur, Sereen Al-Madani, said: “I’m facing the same difficulties other trucks are facing: Many food trucks lose their businesses due to the unavailability of parking spaces, the absence of electricity or other facilities around the spots these trucks are usually parked.”
The situation in other countries is totally different, she said, adding that the municipalities provide food trucks with necessary facilities.
Al-Madani said: “We are not allowed to leave our trucks parked in a specific area overnight. A number of robberies have taken place at some locations.  In some incidents, generators and other machinery were stolen. I know one girl whose truck was stolen.”  
Some time ago, the Riyadh Municipality had allocated a parking space for food trucks on King Fahd Road but for reasons best known to the authorities the decision was overturned.
Attempts to get comments from the municipality on this issue did not yield results.
Another regulation was about the Saudization policy. According to Jeddah’s municipal website, in order to obtain a license, the workers and owners of the food trucks must be Saudi citizens and cannot be employed at a public authority.
In addition, the owners themselves must work along with their Saudi employees in the kitchen, sales and customer care.
“That is a problem because Saudis expect high salaries compared to foreigners, and if we hire Saudis we will have to increase our prices,” Al-Madani said.
“They cannot live with low income and I cannot benefit from it if I will sell my falafels at the same price as restaurants. There is no way to compete with that and that is the biggest difficulty.”
Despite these obstacles, the city’s municipality made it pretty easy for owners to issue a food truck license. Now permits are issued electronically and generally take two working days to be issued.
Even though Al-Madani and Al-Qahtani faced some issues with their businesses, each of them has a success story to share.
Most food truck businesses are upgrading to become restaurants or shops. A food truck specialized in coffee, now has its own coffee shop boutique in one of the upscale areas in Riyadh.
“The coffee sector in Saudi Arabia is witnessing a boom,” Al-Qahtani said. “Lots of shops are opening. We will have more coffee shops in the Saudi markets in the next couple of years.”
“The environment, the experience, the details that you find in the truck or you find in the shop, our characters, our colors, are all integrated to create an unforgettable atmosphere for the customers by providing board games, music, customer service. It’s actually not one package, it’s many packages that come together and make our outlet unique.”
Al-Madani said her food truck, which specializes in making all kinds of breakfasts, is succeeding because of its uniqueness. “When planning for my food truck to stand out from the pack, I focused on the quality,” she said. “My prices are reasonable, I sell breakfast throughout the day and that is unique.”
She added: “Without the help and support of my family and partner, I wouldn’t have made it: They are the ones who inspired me.”
Some food trucks are considering the month of Ramadan as the peak season, while others are taking this month as a chance to renovate, work on maintenance and think of new plans for the rest of the summer.

Al-Qahtani said he has a clear plan for how his business will go in the summer. He said: “In Ramadan, we will sponsor Shalky (Exhibition). We are taking this position to capture the eyes of more clients.”

Decoder


Saudi Hajj ministry investigating how gift to pilgrims was wrongly labelled ‘anthrax’ 

Updated 18 August 2019

Saudi Hajj ministry investigating how gift to pilgrims was wrongly labelled ‘anthrax’ 

  • The Arabic word “jamarat" was inaccurately translated to “anthrax",  a dangerous infectious disease
  • Citing possible repercussions of the mistranslation, scholars want a probe to pinpoint responsibility

RIYADH: The Hajj and Umrah Ministry is investigating the inaccurate translation of the word “jamarat” into “anthrax,” which led to Sheikh Yusuf Estes making a video warning pilgrims of the mistake and its possible repercussions.

The translation concerned a bag that was a gift to pilgrims, containing small pebbles to use for the “stoning of the devil” upon their return from Muzdalifah. The bag had the correct original Arabic description, which roughly translates as “jamarat pebble bag,” whereas the English version of “jamarat” was translated into “anthrax,” a dangerous infectious disease.

According to SPA, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah was notified and opened an investigation with the contractor and translator on August 10, before handing them to authorities to take the necessary disciplinary action.

“Anthrax, where did they get that? They get it from Google, it’s not Google’s fault. Google allows people to tell the meaning of the different languages of words,” Sheikh Yusuf said in the video.

Google Translate, the free multilingual machine translator, relies on comparing large quantities of content between pairs of languages to establish patterns and, in most cases, determine the probability that certain words in one language will correspond with a set of words in another. 

Putting Google Translate to the test, Arab News used the platform to translate a name of a type of fish known in the region as “sha’oor” from Arabic to English. The scientific term for the fish is Lethrinus nebulosus, a type of emperor fish most commonly known as the green snapper or sand snapper.  

Google Translate’s translation was “thickness of feeling.”

Though it yields imperfect results, the service can be used at a pinch, though real human translators rather than artificial intelligence are far more likely to lead to more accurate translations.  

Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Gisele Riachy, director of the Center for Languages and Translation at the Lebanese University in Beirut, explained how the mistranslation of “jamarat” could have happened.

“We have two possibilities, it was either translated by Google Translate or the translator was provided with a single sentence and therefore didn’t understand the meaning of “jamarat,” she said.

“The translator may have not taken into consideration the general context of the word, which has certain religious connotations, therefore it should have been borrowed, translated by the “Stoning of the Devil” or even left as it is.”

Dr. Riachy said that the word anthrax cannot be translated without an accompanying adjective for a better explanation of the term.

“What surprised me is that when translating the word “jamarat” from Arabic to English, the word should have been accompanied with the adjective “khabitha,” or malignant in Arabic, for it to be translated to “anthrax” in English. That is why I am confused and I do not think Google Translate would have translated it into “anthrax” if the Arabic version didn’t include the word “khabitha.”

Sheikh Yusuf Estes’ video was intended for those who would like to take the small bags home as a souvenir or gift, sending a message that the mistranslation could cause the traveler trouble with customs in their own countries.