A Moveable Feast: Food Trucks in Baghdad
November 22, 2016
With Iraq’s economy under strain, entrepreneurs are banking on the country’s most inexhaustible resource: citizens’ quest for a good meal.
Baghdad’s only food critic estimates a new restaurant opens in the city every three days, and there are 40 percent more restaurants in Baghdad than there were just three years ago. Much of the boom is at the high end of the market. But there are also large opportunities on a small scale: some of Baghdad’s millennials are rolling out Western-style food trucks.
Vehicles serving up everything from hamburgers to kibbeh are an increasingly common sight. Many are run by university graduates with a creative and entrepreneurial bent. They are frustrated by scant job prospects and feel they have few options. Compared to conventional restaurants, the advantages of food trucks are clear. The startup costs are much lower, and mobility is a great asset in Baghdad’s touch-and-go security environment. The local response has been enthusiastic. Locals view them as youth-oriented, clean, and fashionable, and they are garnering glowing write-ups in the Iraqi press. The local government is supportive, hoping the trend will help ease youth unemployment.
Many see the cheap and festive curbside dining options as a victory for public life in tense times. Trucks give rise to impromptu gatherings in which card tables are unfolded, and water pipes come out. At one popular truck, a customer was optimistic about the trucks’ impact, saying, “A neighborhood you might have called dead has come back to life.”
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.