El Biyassa

Attarine is one of the most culturally mixed neighborhoods of Alexandria. Essentially working class, it is close to the Cairo train station Mehatet Misr, so that migrants arriving from Upper Egypt or the countryside often just stepped off the train and sought rooms in nearby Attarine. In addition, there was a variety of inhabitants from the foreign communities, especially the Greeks and the Shawam, as the Lebanese and Syrians were called, as well as Jews. Lively and bustling, it is full of women calling to each other out of windows, and laundry hanging from the balconies to dry, along with the bunches of garlic and onion. This is the colorful setting of Alexandria’s most famous quail restaurant. Originally owned by the Lebanese Elias, it took its name from its location. The tiny square which is a cloth and bales market by day, known as El Biyassa (from the Italian piazza, or square), is transformed by night into a grill which offers quails, beqfiquoes and pigeons (stuffed or grilled) to people from all walks of life. From September to November migrating quails are offered, but during the rest of the year only the local variety – not as tasty – can be had. The place is as simple as can be. Unassuming tables and chairs set in the small square, with the grill close by, and the cats weaving in and out of the tables and your legs. The owner is now Egyptian, and the name of the restaurant is Malek el Semman (King of Quails) but nobody knows the name. It is called, as it has been for generations, El Biyassa, in another tongue La Piazza, which by force of habit and cross cultural influence seems to have better stuck in the Alexandrian mind as to usurp the place of King of Quails.