Fish restaurants

If kebda Iskandarani is one of the specialties of Alexandria, it goes without saying that fish is another specialty. Households may of course buy their fish fresh from the several markets of Alexandria, such as Souq Zananiri (in Cleopatra), Souq Shedia (in Ibrahimieh), or Souq Bacos (in Bacos), where everything from vegetables to poultry to fish could be had fresh, or from the specialized fish market in Anfoushi. However, nothing beats a meal of fish (aklet samak) in an open air restaurant facing the sea. Zephyrion in Abu Kir is one such treat. Other fish restaurants “on the sea” are Qadura and Hosni in Bahari, as well as the Fish Market also in Bahari, and the Sea Gull in Mex. What they all have in common is that the fish, crabs, shrimps, squid and lobsters are displayed in boxes of crushed ice, allowing the customer to choose something to his/her liking. Clams are available too.

What distinguishes the fish market in Anfoushi from other fish markets in Alexandria is its sea turtle (tersa) blood. Early in the morning, young girls would make their way to the market, there to drink the blood of the freshly slaughtered sea turtles. In Islam it is strictly forbidden to drink blood or to eat creatures that were not slaughtered according to Islamic rites (and in Alexandria, also Copts will slaughter their chickens saying “In the name of the Cross, cluck cluck cluck”, as Edwar el Kharrat narrates in his novel), but in Alexandria this injunction is somehow sidestepped when it comes to tersa blood. It is believed that its fresh blood, taken first thing in the morning, strengthens the body, hence men and women, Egyptians and members of the foreign community, will drink it. But it is especially prescribed for fertility, and so young girls desiring to fall pregnant will be found queuing up for tersa blood in Anfoushi. Tersa is also a cooked delicacy, though no restaurant can prepare it properly and it can only be eaten at home.

When Qadura first opened in Bahari in 1950 by the fisherman Haj Abdel Qader Mohamed, there were no buildings between it and the sea. The location was very important, even though it started as a delivery place and only later were tables and chairs added for in-house dining, which today caters for 80 tables. Yet the sight of the sea, of which Alexandrians can never get enough, is always an added charm to dining on fish. Fifty years later Alexandaria’s population has grown, and with it the buildings, from Bahari to Montaza. Qadura’s view of the sea has gone, and only a small sliver open to the sea is all that remains. But even that gives Qadura an advantage over its competitors along the waterfront, as its clients still get to see the boats and fishermen return with their catch from the sea. Qadura has opened a branch in Manshieh, then expanded east and opened one in Montaza, and also in Mohandessin in Cairo, making them four in all.

This immense success may be due to the fact that they haven’t altered their menu since they opened. Only fish and a few salads are served, prepared traditionally, with no fancy gimmicks or additions. The fish is supplied by a few specific fishermen who reserve their catch for Haj Sukkari, who is responsible for buying the fish for all four branches and who lives next to the restaurant in Bahari. The fish is sent to Cairo by refrigerated truck everyday around 9 am.

At Eid el Fitr, fish is very much in demand (see Eid el Fitr). Additionally, in May and June fish is very expensive because ships with mechanical nets are forbidden from fishing. Also, fishing must be done with larger holes in the net to allow for proper repopulation. This may provide an explanation to why Alexandrians are told not to eat fish in months with no “r” in them. The assumption had been that these were the hot months when fish could go bad, but the words of Sayed Mahmoud, daytime manager of Qadura for thirty years, makes much sense.

The youngest fish establishment in the area is Geziret el Maleka, owned by the son of Hosni, one of the best-known grill places in Bahari. Huge and rambling, but not necessarily picturesque or even pretty, it opened around fifteen years ago and started big. Its fish soup is loaded with crabs, clams and shrimps and its seafood pasta is mouthwatering. As with all the Bahari places, and El Biyassa, it is frequented by all Alexandrians and even Cairenes make a beeline for it when they visit. People forgive the absence of elegance, for the quality of the food more than compensates for the earthiness of the surroundings.