In the city center, Tamvaco was fast becoming a great hit with Alexandrians. Tamvaco may have opened as early as 1914; it has definitely “been there” on Rue Sesostris a long enough time to stretch easily back to the thirties when the old man could still remember himself a child watching wide-eyed the decorations at Easter and Christmas, and the chocolate Santa riding a sleigh, both so big that the child could swear they were real and coming to town. The large chocolate eggs at Easter bewildered him and he wondered what mother hen was capable of laying them. Apart from impressive vitrines, Tamvaco had won medals from exhibitions in London, Paris and Italy; those were carefully put behind framed glass and hung proudly on the wall for all to see. They certainly gave an air of quality and food authority which could not fail to impress. A catalogue of Tamvaco specialties would include:

Chocolate dates and sugared dates and sugared almonds, which people used to carry on their travels as a cherished Alexandrian specialty, but always those of Tamvaco, “de chez Tamvaco”. Crystallized fruits, always renovating the crop, even introducing crystallized zucchini and cucumbers for the affectionades.

Loucoums stuffed with walnut or filled with cream and garnished with angeliques and dried rose petals.

The famous rose jam (confiture de roses), the unforgettable mastic jam (confiture de mastic), the merrabet el weshna (blackcurrant jam) since even old Mr. Tamvaco would call it just that, as he would announce the season for blackcurrants and the limited amount of jam he had made and urged his clients to get their quotas since that was all he'd be making. There was a jam Nazi attitude about the old man coming out of the kitchen in his white overcoat and his inspection of the shop and its clients: the word clientele for some reason ringing more appropriate.

Mr. Tamvaco probably had a thing for coating everything with chocolate: there were prunes and apricots, orange rind (écorces d' oranges: only these are still made in Alexandria, by Trianon), loucoumi and sometimes an odd recipe that would not go down too well and would be discontinued. Although it was an established business there was a sense in which feedback was welcome and that somebody in the kitchen was listening.

At Xmas time, they would sometimes have paper specially sent by family in Greece for fancy packaging, always a limited amount for the choosy client.

During Lent, they had a specialty called Skaltsounia, made from a mixture of ground nuts that formed a dough then shaped into a semi circle and sprinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon. During Coptic fasting, Tamvaco offered a fasting (seyami) version of their products. They were also always aware of the different calendars and the different times Easter would occur for the Westerners as well as the Eastern Orthodox Christians. (This awareness must probably have been heightened with all the banks in the neighborhood, given the high percentage of Copts in the banking sector, because Tamvaco had also developed a “line” of inexpensive breakfast snacks like spinach and white cheese paté.)

Small chocolate eggs at Easter, wrapped in coloured foil.

Marrons Glacés, and the heart-shaped marrons deguises, which were made with the pulp of sweet potato and which could sometimes pass for chestnut puree. It was a common mutation for expensive confectionaries in times of less economic affluence and social sophistication, to substitute ingredients with less costly ones, hence the famous Délices amarette would be made using peanuts in lieu of almonds, for example.

Tamvaco had a brief stint flirting with the capital, Cairo. Although the jams and many other specialties were met by eager Cairenes who had either visited the original branch or simply heard about it, survival away from home and out of its element became a strain on the business and its owner. They closed shop much to the dismay of the small clientele they had nonetheless managed to secure. There was no love lost, but rather perhaps, no love had managed to clone another Tamvaco away from Alexandria where it stayed with the sweets. In fact, not many moves from Alexandria to Cairo were blessed, apart from the ful shops and the grills. Those that came from Alexandria had a special flavor, and the more they depended on locale or local color, the less they survived out of their context.

Tamvaco had crystallized more than just fruits: he had shaped a sensibility people on the street still remember.

A few years ago Tamvaco was bought by Abou Rabie’, a ful establishment that won much fame in Bulkeley. However, it didn’t so well, perhaps because it is neighbors with yet another ful shop Gad which had also been a foreign restaurant in an earlier life called Clenzo. Settled in the heart of the banking neighborhood, Clenzo catered to the bankers, offering them full meals as well as quick sandwiches. It was a chic restaurant, and rightly so, given its clientele. When it sold out to Gad in the early sixties, its furniture was sold in an auction managed by Salles Cherif, a family business founded by Charles Camel-Toueg, and on that occasion it was the son Djemil Camel-Toueg who held the auction. When Gad first opened, Alexandrians were disturbed by its presence in the heart of Alexandria’s financial center. But it is now very solidly established in the neighborhood, while Abou Rabie’ is seeking other areas to conquer, such as Marina on the North Coast, and even Cairo itself!