Historical Café #2: El Fishawy

El Fishawy Historical Cafe

At 60-years-old, Akram el-Fishawy s the seventh generation of his family to run he El Fishawy coffee house.

El-Fishawy first opened its doors in 1797, only a year before Egypt was invaded by Napoleon Bonaparte. The café is named after the man who founded it, though his first name is lost to history. 

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Al-Fishawy started serving coffee to his friends in a small alleyway in in the Cairo’s Khan al-Khalili district after they returned from their evening prayers. From this informal gathering, a café was born, and remains until today. 

Like many other historical café’s al-Fishawy has been a home of Egyptian intellectuals and writers throughout the years. Figures ranging from 20th-century Novel-Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, to the Egypt’s last monarchy, King Farouk, were frequenters of the café.

Generations of El Fishawys have worked day and night in order to preserve the space, the atmosphere, and the old charm of the café that represents Egypt’s past. However, the café has changed over the generations. It used to be four times the size, but after Cairo authorities decided to expand the neighborhood in Hussein Square in 1986, much of its space was swallowed up.

Charlie Phillips / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

However, what it has lost in size it has gained in ambiance. Enormous cracked mirrors line the edges, rusty chandeliers hang from the roof, while crocodile and deer antlers adorn the yellowing walls. Here and there you can see framed newspaper clippings which tell the story of al-Fishawy’s history.

There are always street singers chanting in the background, adding to the incredible atmosphere, and street vendors are allowed in the café where they approach tabled showing off their odds and ends and engaging with customers.

While it is certainly crowded, and can be overwhelming for tourists who do not understand the language, once you are settled at a small table complete with the nargila (a water-pipe) and a simple menu, it is impossible not to be taken by the vibe. The menu is far from complicated, offering beverage like fresh juices, mint tea, coffee and sahlab.

Charlie Phillips / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Never come here if you are in a rush, but if your goal is to soak in Egyptian culture and go with the flow, taking in the exquisite architecture and taste El-Fishawy has to offer, than this is the place to be. El-Fishawy is arguably the most celebrated shop in the Arab world and a joy to behold.

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