By Lucia Admiraal and Mohamed Anis
In spite of a few optimistic fishermen on Cairo’s bridges and the as much loved as hated “rotten” fish called feseekh, most seafood lovers will have to travel outside Cairo every now and then to fulfil their food cravings.
We headed to Alexandria, with its Mediterranean breeze, cosmopolitan past, extravagant coffeehouses and old markets, for our fish fix.
Not far from Alexandria’s main street followed by the tram is the colourful “chefs market”, Souq el Tabakheen. It was here where, during the old days of King Farouk, cooks used to buy fish and vegetables for their bashas residing in the nearby richly decorated villas.
Until today, most Eskandaraniyya—“Alexandria’s residents”—prefer to have their fish cooked at home. But we are not from Alexandria, nor do we have the secret recipes for its famous seafood. Neither do we want to have dinner at the massive fish restaurants to be found along the kornish. We prefer staying close to the culinary core of Alexandria: the old market with its rich smells and colours.
Soon we discover a third option: a three-floor restaurant called Farag just off the market. It dates back to King Farouk’s time, but, back then, it only sold oven-baked fish for take away. Now, customers can pick their own choice of fish to be cooked in the kitchen on the ground floor or on the grill in front of the entrance.
Our pick of seafood soup, oven-baked bouri fish cooked the singary way with herb crust, grilled shrimps and fried calamari are being served with a rich selection of Egyptian salads and bread. But all the perfectly fresh and richly flavoured fish needs is a squeeze of lemon.
The calamari, so often rubbery and in need of garlic sauce, is good as it is. Among us is a non-fish eater, who can’t resist taking one bite from the singary fish—to be followed by a second, and a third.
What distinguishes good fish in Alexandria? According to Ahmed Suleiman (65), who runs the restaurants with his four brothers, his customers are the secret behind the food. Most of them come all the way from Cairo, the city that has more potential—but Alexandria is where is heart is.
Suleiman speaks proudly about the business his grandfather started more than 70 years ago.
Smiling, he gives us a sly look as we leave the restaurant.
“If you eat here once and leave, the taste of my food will stay with you,” he said.
“The moment you return to Alexandria you will remember it and you will come back to me for more.”
That sounded like a good public relations-phrase. But while driving along the Alexandria-Cairo road, we could still taste the salty crust of the singary with lemon.
Farag Fish Restaurant
Food: Your choice of fresh fish served with Egyptian salads
Price: EGP 250 for five dishes, salads, bread and drinks
Atmosphere: Busy downstairs, yet friendly and welcoming with great presentation of food
Accessibility: 7 Sok El Tabakhen Street, from El Manshya
Egyptian rating: Every seafood lover’s dream!
Foreigner rating: Even a non-fish eater could distinguish this as great food