James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

One of the World’s Legendary Libraries AND Cheese Fondue for Breakfast? We’re Sold

One of the World’s Legendary Libraries AND Cheese Fondue for Breakfast? We’re Sold

Breakfast in Alexandria

“Well, you’ll definitely need a cigarette after,” was the only information I was offered en route to breakfast.

Karawya, our unofficial food guide for Alexandria, had agreed to join us less than 12 hours earlier, over chai in Cairo the night before.

Our 6:30 a.m. departure was beginning to take its toll as our pre-breakfast snacks of Nescafe and petrol-station ice creams wore off and gave way to hunger. We desperately needed a pick-me-up.

At that time of day back home, I’d grab a green juice from my bodega next door. But I wasn’t in New York. Instead of ringing in 2018 with nine million strangers on a tiny island, I was with three Cairenes, exploring the edges of a continent in a much warmer climate.

I had expected to spend the week in Cairo alone, until an old friend introduced me to a local acquaintance in Egypt. “But be forewarned,” he said. “Mostafa is by far the best host I’ve ever had.” As my new friends and I headed down to Alexandria’s waterfront, the skies cleared for the first time in weeks.

One of North Africa’s most important ports, affectionately called “Alex,” the city is also known for its library and its seafood.

A couple of blocks behind the famous promenade where Alexander the Great gazed out upon his kingdom’s sea and revolutionaries dreamed up better versions of Egypt’s future sits another Alexandria institution: Alban Swisra, the grocery-turned-eatery, and our first stop.

Our table was wobbly, with a roll of toilet paper serving as napkins. A few cats snaked around my legs. “Usually this place has a line out the door. We’re lucky to be early,” Karawya said.

After consuming delicacies such as Ash Hamam mahshi (stuffed pigeon) and Om Ali (a baklava/bread pudding fusion) all week, I had anticipated another exquisite Mediterranean-influenced meal.

Instead, plate after plate of steaming, melted, fondue-like cheese arrived at our table. There was kofte covered with cheese. Fried eggs covered with cheese. Even halwa, the flour-based sweets, covered with cheese, all served with a plastic grocery bag filled with several loaves of Egyptian fino bread. The cheese was as rich as any I’d had in France. I had never imagined ripping fino apart to shovel Egyptian fondue into my mouth. It was clear how Alban Swisra, once a small dairy grocer, had become a local institution.

I reveled in the happy moment even as the cheese struggled to settle in my stomach. As we rose to wander Alexandria’s cafes, I reached for our pack of Merits.

Alban Swisra
82 Port Said Street,
Al Ibrahimeyah Bahri WA Sidi Gaber,
Qesm Bab Sharqi, Alexandria Governorate
Open 24 hours.

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