Pasta, the rice of the poor, disappeared from many supermarket shelves in Iran this week or is sold only in smaller quantities after its price suddenly tripled.
In the past few decades, pasta has gradually replaced expensive rice in the diet of lower-income Iranian families. The tripling of the price of pasta announced this week may make it unaffordable to many, critics say.
The price hike is a result of a government decision to scrap the subsidy for imported wheat, flour and other essential items. The higher cost of flour is also affecting a wide variety of breads, cakes and pastries including children's snacks, fast food such as hamburgers and sandwiches, and even the traditional noodles used for making a thick noodle soup called ash-e reshteh. The soup is often served as a main course.
The Student Basij, a pro-government student union, warned President Ebrahim Raisi Thursday that the abrupt end to the flour subsidy could cause unrest. "The society is not prepared for this level of price increases and this level of disorganization in its execution," the union said in a letter to Raisi and urged him to "speak candidly to the people" to explain the reasons, and the measures that will be taken to prevent too much pressure on vulnerable families.
The cost of flour, since the announcement of the new measures on May 1, has hiked to around 160,000 rials a kilo, around 60 US cents. The same flour used to be sold for 27,000 rials (less than 10 cents) last week. It is expected to further rise to around 184,000 (65 cents).
The average monthly salary of a worker with two children, including child and housing benefits, has been set at around 64,300,000 rials (around $230).
A bakery in Iran selling traditional flat breads
People's income should be at international levels, "calculated in dollars, not worthless rials," if the cost of living is the same as in other countries, Jalil Rahimi, a lawmaker, tweeted Tuesday. "Let's not test people's patience. The threshold of people's patience is at the lowest possible level in years," he warned.
The price of traditional flatbreads such as barbari, sangak, and lavash will not be affected as the government says it will continue to subsidize them but instead of subsidizing flour, it will pay a cash handout directly to the consumers.
Non-traditional breads such as baguettes and hamburger buns will, however, not be subsidized anymore. These types of bread are also widely consumed by Iranian families. The higher cost of these breads is likely to badly affect fast food joints and sandwich shops. A hamburger bun now costs several times as much as a burger at a fast-food place only a few years ago, social media users say.
The government claims it has made elaborate plans to ensure traditional flatbreads cost the same as before to consumers although bread at the subsidized rate will be rationed.
The plan has yet not been fully explained by the government, but some lawmakers have said that at bakeries people will pay the same price as now for their ration of bread with registered debit cards to which the government pays cash handouts.
But bakers will not take the brunt, the government says. They will be reimbursed for the difference in the cost of flour based on their sales figures. For anything above their family's rations, people will have to pay the full price.
Tabnak news website said Thursday the total cost of basic food items on average hasnow increased by 200 percent and criticized the government for announcing the hike in flour prices during the long Eid al-Fitr holiday. The announcement has shocked the society, it said.