If we take a looking glass and slowly zoom into the space between Oraby Square and El-Gomhoreya Street in Downtown Cairo, we’ll find an extended alley wedged between them, 135 meters long infamously known as Alfy Street. This iconic landmark is home to Khedival buildings inspired by French architecture and holds a special history dating back to the 1920s. Beyond that, it is also home to a big collection of restaurants and cafes that take up the entire street. With it being Ramadan, we dropped it a visit to explore how the iconic street packed with restaurants and cafes embraces the festive month.
From the moment we stood at the very start of the street, we took on the bustling spectacle of hung multicolored string lights and endless rows of lamp posts covered in spiraled LED lights. It was the ultimate gathering hub across all of Downtown, an open-air extravaganza of families and friends strolling through its walkway or dining at its many restaurants and cafes. Even if people don’t want to sit and eat, they can chill and have a fresh cup of tea on one of the many branches scattered along the walkway.
As we began strolling through Alfy Street, one place in particular caught our eye, it was called Akher Saa (The Last Hour). This fast-paced eating hub was home to multiple cooking stations ranging from a four-person shawarma station to an egg and foul station where the sound of sizzling oil mixed in with the chatter of diners and waiters.
We wanted to get an idea of how the place sets up for Ramadan so we had a chat with its owner Mohamed Abd El Gaber, a middle-aged man with a gruff and heavy voice, dressed in a white buttoned shirt. The moment we asked how Akher Saa sets up their iftar and suhoor, Gaber’s voice was raised an octave as he excitedly painted us a picture of those special sunset and pre-dawn hours, “we do it all including pitching a huge tent that hangs above all the seats and serving everything from eggs and pastrami to kebda and shawarma sandwiches as well as our in-house foul.” Their foul is quite special as it’s brought in all the way from Upper Egypt which Gaber told us is a rarity as most shops usually use imported foul.
Opening its doors in the 1960s, Gaber told us how Akher Saa is the beating heart of Downtown Cairo, everyone knows it and loves it. That’s the thing about Alfy street in general, many of its restaurants are deeply rooted in the history of the neighborhood. Our next stop was the timeless classic eatery known as Restaurant Alfi Bey, dating back to 1938, the entire spot exuded a vintage feel with its interiors made up of marble tables, hung portraits and even a mini antique gold-rimmed mirror. The coolest part was that they even had an old black and white framed menu that showed prices from 1938. Back then, an entire chicken cost 12 sagh (about 12 pennies).
Being in such a historic spot, we wanted to uncover more of its story and how the place transforms during Ramadan so we spoke to its manager, Mohy El Din, a short middle-aged man with many stories under his belt. He told us how he loves Ramadan believing it to be the one month in the entire year when the world becomes a kinder place.
Unlike Akhir Saa, Restaurant Alfi Bey only serves iftar and makes sure to offer an authentic Egyptian spread with everything from kebab and kofta to stuffed pigeons, duck and lamb ribs. There are also the decorations; their hung red fanoos (lantern) at the very entrance of the restaurant. He went on to say that eating at Alfi Bey during Ramadan is a special experience that goes beyond the delicious food as this very eatery saw the likes of legends dine within its four walls including Nour El Sherif and Hassan Hosny. With such an impressive history, we started to understand that Alfy street was more than just a dining spot but rather a thriving time capsule of Cairo’s 20th Century.
To further explore the spirit of the street, we began speaking to some of the families seated at its cafes and restaurants like Ayman Ali, a tourist agent who felt a connection to Alfy street telling us it was a favourite spot since her was kid believing that it’s the perfect spot to capture the Ramadan spirit.
It’s clear that Alfy street has been and will continue to be the ultimate hub that gathers friends and families until the early morning hours. We cannot wait to hit up even more spots across Cairo that blend together that very same authentic Ramadan vibe with Egypt’s rich history.
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