The first time I went to Alexandria, there was a curfew and no trains were running. The second time I went to Alexandria, the curfew had ended and I took a train. I brought: a change of clothes, a sketchbook, a camera. A pair of freshly baked buttery scones. On the train I enjoyed the greatest, frothiest, most perfectly balanced Nescafe I have ever experienced.
When you arrive in Alex, the best thing is to take a trolley into town, which will allow you to adjust gradually to the new reality in which you find yourself, and to do a great deal of people watching. The next task is to secure a room with a view.
The next stop is Mohamed Ahmed for a proper breakfast (it’s now been hours since that Nescafe and scone on the train). Street vendors may hassle you along the way, especially if you look Western, as they don’t get much tourist foot traffic these days. But if you explain that you are on your way to Mohamed Ahmed’s they will agree that your errand is an important one and step aside.
The falafel is so light and airy you’ll think you have died and gone to Jerusalem. The place is full of families and people from all walks of life, the posh people and the not so posh people and the bedraggled tourists in the corner, and the no smoking sign not only exists, it cites a law that nobody has ever heard of. The ful is Alexandrian, and exceptional.
تغدى وتمدى، تعشى وتمشى
Taghadda wa tamadda, ta3asha wa tamasha
Lunch and nap; dine and stroll.
If still in a breakfast mood after your afternoon nap, check out one of Alex’s legendary coffee shops. Complete with dazzling displays and parakeets. And buy a kilo of your favorite brew so you can take a bit of Alex home with you when you leave.
if you fancy a fancy breakfast, the option is there, just steps away at Délices, where the service is terrible and the pancakes are divine. The his and hers signs on the bathrooms are actually adverts for a local telecom company, and they show a man and a woman, respectively, sitting on the toilet with their laptops. There are typewriters inside, and a man drinking a beer alone at 1 pm, but the view is much better if you sit outdoors.
From here you can see: a neoclassical building of unknown usage, a statue of a basha wearing a fez, a Pharaonic-style monument of some sort. Yellow streetcars.
On a more sober note: it was sitting here, too, that we watched a police van lumber by, filled with people chanting in protest: yasqut yasqut 7ukm al3askari (down with military rule). It would appear that the latest iteration of Egypt’s protest law has confined the slogans of the revolution to a very few spaces indeed, including the inside of prison transport vehicles.
It was a fleeting reminder that despite culinary seaside escapes, there is really no getting away from the very real political repression that is everywhere just under the surface in today’s Egypt. I have Google News alerts set up for search terms like “food + Middle East” and “food + Egypt,” and more often than not, the news it turns up these days is related to hunger strikers.
These moments have led me to wonder, time and time again, what it means to blog about food from a place where political violence has become so normalized. I don’t have a great answer. But the thing about food is that it’s ever-present, even if it very rarely makes headlines: amidst protests and referendums and uprisings and counter-revolution there are hands behind the scenes that make the food that keeps everyone going throughout it all. And in that way perhaps, even the most frivolous of blog posts celebrating the wonders of Alexandrian tastes can be a momentary reminder of the everyday humanity that still dominates Egyptian life, no matter what the headlines are saying.