For the day labourers and small traders of Karwan Bazar, the largest kitchen market in the capital, the small restaurant sitting opposite the row of chicken shops is a popular dining destination. Consisting of only three tables and a few chairs, the eatery has been serving food at an affordable price for them.
Until very recently.
The situation has quickly changed lately and customers say meal prices at the restaurant are going out of hand.
"Earlier, they used to serve an omelette for Tk15. Now it costs Tk20. Even the size of the parathas is getting smaller," Abdur Rahman, a fruit seller and a regular customer of the restaurant, told The Business Standard.
Md Jalil, the owner of the eatery, points the finger at the soaring commodity prices for the rise in meal prices.
"We are having to buy oil at Tk200 a litre, which was Tk150 even weeks ago. Prices of egg and flour have increased too along with everything else. We have no other way but to increase meal prices," he said.
Poor are the worst suffers
Commodity prices shook the global and domestic markets in recent months, driven by the supply chain disruption due to the Russia-Ukraine war and the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the World Bank, the war has led to the largest energy price shock since the 1973 oil crisis, elevating commodity prices for years to come.
The impact of the shock is visible in the prices of daily essentials.
For instance, the price of four pieces of eggs has increased to Tk42 from Tk35 in a matter of weeks.
The volatile market has hit people across the board, but it is the poor and limited-income people who are understandably the worst sufferers.
Prices of rice – the staple food of the country – have been on the rise for months.
One kilogram of Nazirshail rice now costs Tk75 in some markets, up from Tk68 a month ago, while Minicate rose to Tk68 from Tk56 per kg. Coarse rice now costs Tk50 per kg, up from Tk45 a month ago.
Private jobholder Rahenur Rahman, who came to Karwan Bazar on Wednesday to buy rice, told TBS that prices of the cereal were extravagantly high in his local market at Madhubag, which is why he came to Karwan Bazar. "But the difference is not much as traders here are asking Tk66 for a kg of Miniket," he said.
He quoted one of the traders at the market as saying, "Rice prices are high everywhere. Nobody will be able to give it to you at a lower price."
Rahenur said he bought the same rice at Tk63 a month ago.
Flour prices have been running wild. A one-kg packet of flour now costs Tk50, up from Tk45 a month ago. Besides, loose flour is selling for Tk44-46, rising by Tk10 from a month ago.
According to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), flour prices have risen 28.75% in the market in the last month owing to export bans of the largest wheat producers of the world, including India, Russia, and Ukraine.
However, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi recently said Bangladesh would be able to import wheat from India on the government to government basis.
The price of lentils has increased from Tk10 to Tk15 in a matter of two to three days with traders blaming supply disruptions.
Imported lentils are being sold at Tk110-115 per Kg, up from Tk100-105 two days ago, while local lentil price has jumped Tk10-15 per Kg to Tk135-140.
Meanwhile, Shafi Mahmud, president of the Bangladesh Wholesale Pulses Traders Association, blamed the rise in dollar prices in recent days.
As a result, he said importers are having to spend an extra Tk15-18 per kg of pulses.
Govt decisions further heat up the market
Speeding up the heat of the market, the government has set a hiked price of edible oil, which is now being sold at Tk182-198 per litre. The price of bakery products has already gone up by 5-10%. Different companies are selling 250-gram packets of bread at Tk40, up from Tk35.
Onion prices too went up in recent days after the government announced to curb the import of the essential cooking material from India. The government says it is controlling imports to ensure fair prices for farmers.
During these hard times, many low-wage earners had found slight relief in a government announcement to sell subsidised food and cooking essentials in open trucks. But the announcement was never realised.
"The way commodity prices are hiking, the situation will turn grave in near future," Private jobholder Touhidur Rahman told TBS.
He said his family is now being forced to follow austerity measures in cooking.
"We are avoiding cooking foods that take too much oil. Besides, we have also reduced the number of meals at our table."
The private jobholder said he is trying to save some money as he fears the situation may turn worse.