by Heba Fatteen Bizzari
Imagine, mixing into a single dish, pasta, rice, lentil, chick peas, onions and garlic and adding to this chili sauce. The idea sounds horrific, until one tries out an Egyptian favorite called Koshary.
I had always heard about Koshary, and its importance to Egyptians. You can see it in movies and you would hear Egyptians in Saudi Arabia describe it as the most delicious traditional dish, so I was keen to try it the moment I came to Egypt. Now Im an addict, said Wael Fawaz, a Syrian medical student at Misr (Cairo) University for Science and Technology. You cant visit Egypt and not eat Koshary, youll miss a lot, he added.
Koshary is a traditional Egyptian meal that consists of a strange combination of macaroni, spaghetti, rice, black lentils, chick peas, garlic sauce and a spicy tomato chili sauce, all topped with fried onions. It is sold from carts by street vendors, in restaurants or even made at home and each is considered a different taste experience.
The Koshary man stands in front of the large containers that hold each of the dish's ingredient. Usually, there is a line of people waiting to be served. Once you place your order, you stand in a row waiting to give the Koshary man your receipt that states the price of your dish. At the moment you give him the receipt the Koshary man grabs a bowl, and scoops a little of each ingredient into the bowl and sends it to your table. Each Koshary dish takes about five seconds to prepare (of course, after the ingredients are cooked).
His speed can be surprising to you. I have worked here since we opened 10 years ago, and before that I sold Koshary on a street cart, so I have to be fast. My hands are accustomed to the same movements I do all day everyday, so you can say that I memorized the movements rather than think about them, said Aziz Awad, a Koshary man in one of the restaurants downtown.
As the Koshary man scoops, he knocks his metal spoon against the sides of the bowls, making the Koshary symphony that you wont hear elsewhere. When the Koshary man prepares an
order of more than four the restaurant fills with sound as if it was a rehearsal for a concert. The restaurants of Koshary are very noisy. One sits to eat while the Koshary man practices his drums in your ears. It's weird but I guess its a part of the Egyptian identity which you get used to in time, said Fawaz.
At the table, all the dishes are aluminum except the two glass bottles that contain two different kinds of sauce, one made from vinegar and oil, the other from spicy red pepper. The chili is a whole new dimension for the meal. You can eat Koshary and it would taste good, but for it to be this delicious you have to use chili. That creates all the taste, said Waleed Abdullah, an office boy.
Koshary is considered a meal that is inexpensive yet fills up the stomach of an average Egyptian. Koshary is something I love; I can have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Its eaten anytime, anywhere. I can eat it standing, sitting, at work or at home, said Abdullah. Its a meal that is both affordable and delicious.
Sitting in the Hotel Longchamps on my last visit to Egypt, several new Egyptology students joined me on the Summer Terrace. This was their first trip to Egypt, and it seems that somewhere they had heard of Koshary. Their first action in Egypt, after arriving and catching up on some sleep, was to order this famous dish. All we can say is that it has a certain legend. On Tour Egypt, we have several recipes, one in our recipe section and another from our famed cook, Mary Kay Radnich, which is probably the better of the two.