The Koshary Quandary, Revisited

I mentioned very early on that finding the greatest plate of koshary out there was one of my purposes in writing this blog. To chronicle the Hunt. To search High and Low for that perfect plate of pure Egyptian goodness. And after I’ve found it, devise a way to bring it into the 21st century.

To understand Koshary is to understand the Egyptian psyche. We need a feast for the eyes, and also a feast for the stomach. This is evident when we sit down at a family dinner: the table is covered end to end in different varieties of food – mountains of rice, Penne and béchamel casserole, Molokheyya soup, plates of chicken and beef and okra stew in a bright red tomato sauce – all vying for valuable real estate in our stomachs, hearts and memories.

Koshary is like a huge dinner table, except its all in one plate. We’ve got the pasta. We’ve got the Rice. We’ve got the bright red tomato sauce. Koshary is a poor man’s dish, so there is no meat or vegetables, but to make things interesting, we’ve added lentils and chickpeas, and topped it with inexpensive fried onions, and drizzled a garlic vinaigrette on top for that extra “kick”

Meanwhile, the French are using soy sauce (!), Italians are making bolognaise ragù with Kobe beef and the Americans sit somewhere between continental and oriental cuisine; the culinary equivalent of an identity crises. One thing all American food has in common, however is that it’s all invariable fatty. Kind of like the American people. You are what you eat after all.

But I digress.

I decided to begin the hunt at Abu El Seed, ostensibly a monument to Egyptian cuisine. Since I had never been there, I spent these past few months asking around, and the feedback I received was generally positive, notable for the fact that while everyone recommended the Sherkasseyya (Chicken with walnut sauce) no one had actually ordered the Koshary. “Why not?” I asked. Responses ranged from “I don’t like koshary” to “why would I pay so much for such a cheap dish?”

I thought to myself: if Abu El Seed was making koshary using the exact same ingredients as Sheikh El Balad or Koshary el Tahrir, then we’ve got problems.

At long last, after enjoying sushi, raving about C+G’s and a thinly veiled rant about the sexuality of beef, I have finally gotten around to telling you, my nonexistent reader, what the Koshary in Abu El Seed is all about.

In a word? Disappointment. Much like Lucille’s “world’s greatest hamburger” moniker, I was promised so much by the hype surrounding the restaurant itself and let down.

It didn’t taste nearly half as good as the cheaper alternatives at KT’s or Abu Tarek. The plate had very little rice, very little lentils and was little more than a bowl of slimy spaghetti strands swimming in a sea of garlicky water. There were so many transgressions committed against this venerable dish:
– The use of spaghetti pasta – cooked al dente, no less! (Koshary is the exception to the Al Dente rule).
– Incorrect proportions of fried onions, lentils, chickpeas, rice and pasta.
– drowning the plate in Garlic water: I’m sure we all agree that the application of the hot red pepper sauce, garlic vinaigrette, and tomato sauce should *always* be left upto the consumer.

In the end, I realized I need to be more selective of whom I ask for restaurant recommendations. Unfailingly, the first thing mentioned is the dessert they “loved”, the fact they were starving when they got there and that the decor is “really cool”. Well, it turns out the dessert they loved was a 2 day old apple tart bought in from the Marriot Bakery and the decor is a cross between a suburban coffee outlet and a sheesha joint, complete with Bamboo chairs.

For Koshary, Abu Seed fails miserablty. And the search continues..

Cooking Time: 45 Minutes.


About Wesam E Masoud
Chef Patron of @chefsmarketmasr, Host of @CBCSofra's #matbakh101. I have one degree in Medicine & 3rd degree burns from cooking.

4 Responses to The Koshary Quandary, Revisited

  1. CairoCarole says:

    Obviously you have never been to America. You make the comment that all American food is fatty as are the people. The Egyptian diet is far fattier and carb laden than the American diet is, in general. American is a melting pot and except for the South that fries everything American dining is healthful, flavorful and fat concious. If you only go to fast food places then you can make the arguement but Americans have become so health crazed that the fast food places have had to buckle under the pressure to serve healthier entrees and snacks. I have never seen so many obese women and men as I have here in Egypt. I am from America and I think you need to do more in depth research.

  2. WEM says:

    You are wrong on both counts:

    #1 I am American. Obviously you haven’t read the rest of my blog when i waxed on poetic about Louis Lunch hamburgers in New Haven, CT or lamented the fact that a Time Magazine writer claimed that Egypt had the best burgers in the world. You should learn not to do that to save yourself further embarrassment.

    #2 Its not just the quality of food being eaten – its the quantity. You shouldn’t be suprised or shocked that in a country which is accustomed to 42oz buckets of soft drinks and half-pound burgers that over 70% of the populace is overweight or obese. (as opposed to Egypt, which is just over 65%)

    Perhaps you should research some statistics before embarrassing yourself as yet another naive american who’s knee jerk reaction is to automatially attack anyone who says anything remotely critical of the US.

  3. Haatem Reda says:

    Dude, Abu el Sid for koshary? Why? I like the place, but I agree with the objection to paying more for something that is already near perfect at other places that cost less than dirt. Koshary is not meant to be nice, it’s meant to be good.

    That being said, if I’m going to go to Abu el Sid, my favorite thing to do there is to order appetizers tapas-style. Besides that, the ‘Moza bel fereik’ tagen is good. Decor is hit or miss depending on which one you go to. I think the one in Zamalek right off 26th July is pretty nice. Their choice of music was very chill. The one in Maadi is, well, meh.

  4. yousra says:

    wisu, why are you hunting for over-priced koshary when that whole in the wall in tahrir does it so so well, with the best lemon-garlic sauce and the best hot sauce!

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