In Egypt, it is difficult to define what is:
- THE national meal
- THE favorite dish of the people
- THE staple food of the land
Egyptians love food, and lots of it… particularly carbohydrates: no meal is usually complete without at least 3 of them!
So it is not surprise that the dish of food known here as KOSHARI (Kusharee, or any other spelling you like) is among one of the many “most famous” Egyptian meals!
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
There are a few histories of the dish, my favorite is that of the progressive improvement of the dish as it passed through many nationalities:
- It is said that the origins of this dish were from India: a lentil and rice dish called Khichiri.
- It appears to have become known in Italy (1900s) who then added… pasta (of course) in macaroni form.
- During the First World War, it is said that Egyptian soldiers got hold of this dish, and passed it on to their Egyptian families.
- At this point it was made thoroughly Egyptian: with the addition of Chick peas and crispy onions.
So a truly international, multi-layered, added on dish, culminating in a uniquely Egyptian taste, flavor and design!
WHAT IS IN KOSHAREE?
This is a single dish, with many ingredients:
- the base layer is a starch lover’s heaven: pasta (macaroni, and a very thin spaghetti) and rice… and lots of this!
- then is added lentils (usually dark)
- this then has a lovely tomato/onion/garlic sauce poured over it
- the final garnish is chick peas and crispy delicious caramelized onions.
- optional is a garlic sauce, or a zingy hot sauce (added to taste)
This may sound quite bizarre, but almost all of our guests have found this to be a memorable meal.
THE SERVING OF IT:
As with many meals in Egypt, the preparation is tedious: many ingredients and lots of time required. How it is then served is almost an elegant dance, so fluid are the “chef”, whether it be from a food cart or in one of the specialized kosharee restaurants.
The various food items are stored in large metal (silver) bowls, and traditional served on metal (silver in color) plates.
As the arm of the server sweeps and swoops gracefully and in a flurry of motion up and down the line of carefully created mounds of pasta, rice, lentils, tomato sauce, peas and onions, the pleasant sound of the metal plates beating against each other create a sound and rhythm that gets your mouth watering…. even standing watching them serve is mesmerizing!
If you are in a restaurant with a group, it can be alarming when you see how many plates one waiter is able to carry at a time: but the service is usually brisk and efficient, as there are often people waiting to be seated. So service is quick, eating is a serious business, and then move on to allow the next hungry customers the pleasure of eating their meal!
THE NATION LOVES IT!
Although there are some thoughts that this is a meal for the “poor/common folk” it is a widely popular dish, beloved by almost every Egyptian I know… and fast growing in acclaim with our foreign guests.
So when you come, ask around and find a good place to go to, and watch how they dish up the food, look at people’s faces, and then tuck in and enjoy this uniquely Egyptian meal: one that shows how we can combine many cultures in one and all enjoy it together.