Morning Coffee: Cafés in Old Cairo

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El Fishawy is the best known café in Cairo
and a favourite of Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz

Mention Cairo, and the first things that come to mind are the pyramids. Why do I consider this unfortunate? Because the pyramids are a remnant of a dead civilization, and Cairo today is a living city of 16 million people. Let me suggest a better symbol: the cafés of Khan-el-Khalili, a living microcosm of Egypt’s metropolis.

Cairo’s cafés are many things at once. Sometimes, they have the social buzz of a nightclub or pub. You can often count on the Egyptian smoking a shisha next to you to strike up a conversation. I even saw some French tourists at a nearby table who seemed to be flirting with two Egyptian women in conservative Muslim headgear. Somewhere beyond the shisha haze was a family in party hats celebrating their kid’s birthday surrounded by golden trays crammed with large frothy milkshakes. A café isn’t a café without, well, introspective café types: reading, quietly sipping their dark mint tea, or scribbling away.

Cafés are habitually doorless and windowless. The interiors spill out onto the streets and the suq spills into the cafés. Cairo’s most famous café, the Fishawy, is a series of mirrors and ornate doorframes crammed into a through street. The street is used by shopkeepers, trinket vendors, and pedestrians, who brush against the tables. Sometimes the people-watching seems a little too intimate but this is Cairo: dense, chaotic, and wonderful.

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Just when you think you’ve moved beyond the café spillover, you come across a scene like this on a nearby street corner.
This entry was written by Patrick Donovan , posted on Wednesday January 24 2007at 10:01 pm , filed under Africa and Middle East, Interior Space, Society and Culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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