Street food

Street food

By
Suzanne Zeidy
Contains
10 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742708027
Photographer
Jonathan Gregson

Koshary

Koshary is the archetypical Egyptian meal, a dish that embodies everything that is wonderful about the country’s food, from the wholesomeness of the ingredients to the way you develop its distinct taste by fusing such different ingredients together. You cook the rice with the lentils and you use the same oil that you fried the onions in — everything is intertwined — a feature of so much Egyptian cooking.

A steaming bowlful of this iconic dish also tells us much about the country’s history in just one bite. Layers of rice, brown lentils, a cumin and garlic-infused tomato sauce, chickpeas and macaroni, all topped with a hot chilli paste, garlic vinegar sauce and a sprinkling of fried onions, is a dish as bustling and complicated as the country that loves it and the busy streets it is served from. Koshary, like much Egyptian cuisine, is a food that cannot be untangled from a rich history of war and conquest, trade and exploration, and its origins are to be found not in the streets of Cairo, but the bazaars of India.

The word ‘koshary’ is not even Arabic, it is from the Hindi ‘khichri’, meaning ‘an unlikely mix’, and refers to the Indian dish of lentils, rice, onions and hard-boiled eggs. Khichri was brought to Egypt by the British army in the nineteenth century, the British having so fallen in love with this comforting dish that they went on to create their own version, kedgeree, by swapping the lentils for fish. Meanwhile, in Egypt macaroni, popularised by the country’s Italian population, was substituted for the eggs and koshary was born. The pasta may be from Italy, the tomatoes from Latin America and the rice from Asia, but put together, this dish is unmistakably Egypt’s own.

Koshary carts, with their white lacquered wood and squares of bright coloured glass, their open kitchen and lively hustle and bustle, are at the heart of traditional Egyptian street food. The carts compete ferociously for trade and loyal customers queue at the best. However, koshary is not confined to the streets, this is a dish that the whole country enjoys. The nation’s comfort food, it sometimes seems that every Egyptian has created their own personalised version and no bowl of steaming koshary is ever exactly the same. Whether the preference is for more lentils or less fried onions, the cook will oblige, and chilli oil and garlic vinegar dressings are always left out to add cautiously or with reckless abandon.

Recipes in this Chapter

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