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Koshary: The Egyptian Dish Where East Meets West

posted on: Sep 1, 2016

BY: Zane Ziebell/Contributing Writer

Imagine a bowl filled with steaming rice, two or three different kinds of pasta, lentils, and warm tomato sauce topped with freshly fried onions. Have you ever thought of such a random combination of ingredients before? When put together, the ingredients make Koshary, a popular dish among Egyptians that has come to be known as the, “National Dish of Egypt.”

For over a hundred years, Koshary has been the one meal that everyone can rely on to be affordable, nutritious, and filling.  This wholesome dish has found a home not only in the stomachs, but also in the hearts of all Egyptians. Whether it’s served at a four-star restaurant, a small market, or a cart on the side of the road, Koshary is eaten everywhere in Egypt.

Koshary (Arabic – كشرى) can be found hot and ready on the loud and busy streets of Cairo, near the beaches of Alexandria, and along the lush green banks of the famous Nile River. The delicious Egyptian meal consists of a base of rice, two or three different kinds of pasta (usually macaroni), chickpeas, and black lentils, which are covered in a layer of pasta sauce, spicy salsa, or chili. The meal is then topped with fried onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and vinegar.  Koshary is usually served warm and enjoyed any time of the year.

Koshary is a unique dish that came into existence in Egypt during the 19th century when Cairo was one of the world’s hubs for culture and trade. Egypt straddles the threshold of where Eastern culture meets Western culture, and Koshary is the resulting exchange of thousands of flavors and spices that have flowed through the North African country. With its base of rice originating in the East and its tomato sauce topping originating in the West, Koshary is a lovely combination of ingredients that show just how diverse Egypt’s culture has grown to be throughout its long and magnificent history.

Image Credit: Twitter

During its beginnings in the early 19th century, Koshary was mainly eaten fill the mighty appetites of Egypt’s working class. It was first sold on the streets and in the markets until the flavorful creation made its way to the restaurants of Egypt’s cities.  Koshary can now be found everywhere in Egypt for around 10 to 25 Egyptian Pounds (between one and three US dollars). All of the ingredients in it are vegetarian, making it a meal safe for almost anyone to eat.

Being a meatless dish, Koshary was – and still is – eaten by the Coptic Christians of Egypt during Lent, a religious holiday where eating meat is not allowed. Today, beef or chicken shawarma meat is a popular addition to the dish. From one simple phone call Koshary can arrive at any Egyptian’s front door, hot and ready to eat. In Cairo, it is still sold in plastic bags on the side of the road where a customer can tear the bottom and drink Koshary – no spoon needed!

The traffic of Cairo is terrible and there is never much time to stop and sit down for dinner. “The thing that I love about Koshary is it is filling, cheap, quick, and it has great taste,” says Mohammad, a native of Cairo and owner of the Cairo Water Taxi service. “So when I am in a rush to get to work or go home, I can just stop and pick up a bowl of Koshary on the side of the road. Morning, afternoon, night, anytime. I love it,” he added.

One’s adventure to the amazement, beauty, and civilized chaos that is Egypt, and in particular Cairo, isn’t complete without a bowl Koshary. The adventure of buying a bowl is almost as memorable as the taste of itself.