That nifty fusion of rice, pasta (including vermicelli noodles, spaghetti, and macaroni), brown lentils and chickpeas with a tomato-based salsa and fried onion topping, known as koshary, is indisputably one of the most authentic Egyptian dishes, alongside molokhiyya (a viscous green herbal soup known abroad as Jew’s Mallow).
Numerous culinary and historical studies indicate that the vast majority of ‘Egyptian’ culinary highlights actually have their origins in Ottoman, Levantine, or Arab Maghreb cuisines.
Egypt’s koshary belongs to the trio of staple national foods, along with fuul (aka fava beans) and taamiya (aka falafel: grounded and fried fava beans.) From this gut-filling assembly, koshary is definitely the most filling, spicy and flavorful – and in spite of the rise in its price it remains a cheap food alternative.
Over the past four years the average mid-sized plate of koshary in Cairo has risen in price from LE3, or less, to LE5. Inflation has hiked-up the prices of everything from pasta, rice, cooking oil, and even onions. But then again restaurants now sell their fuul and taamiya sandwiches at LE1.25 when they used to cost only 50piasters some four years ago.
Hundreds of koshary shops line the streets of Egypt’s towns and cities offering table service and plastic containers to-go, with prices usually ranging from LE3 for a small kiddy plate (aka tabba’ kemala, a smaller additional serving) to LE8 for a gargantuan bowl or foil container. These larger sizes are sufficient to feed a small family, or a large buffalo.
Many of the newer koshary shops also offer home delivery services. The standard venue is decked out with tables on which diners find little trays of salt and cumin and bottles of daqqah (colloquially pronounced as da’ah – which is a lemon, garlic, cumin and vinegar mix) and most importantly shattah (a red-brown chili pepper hot sauce with oil) for the customized seasoning of your koshary.
A jug of water, plastic/metallic cups are also found on each table to wash down the intense spoonfuls of shattah. Typically, koshary shops serve soda cans/bottles, little cups of rice pudding, and a starchier smoother version of this pudding known as mahalabiya.
And if you are on the run, numerous push-carts service hungry people ‘on the go’, usually in the more populous and rural districts of the country. Some of these carts offer koshary sandwiches although these are too heavily-loaded on carbohydrates for most people’s tastes.
In terms of its nutritional value, koshary is a good source of multi-grain carbohydrates and protein and believe it or not it is not an excessively high calorie diet.
Naturally, koshary differs from shop to shop, but in terms of average estimates a small plate has around 200 calories, around 300-500 for a medium-large sized plate, and well over 1000 calories for the super-extra-large sizes (the calorie differentials may be determined according to the proportions of ingredients used, the amount of fried onions, and the amount of cooking oil used in the preparation of the rice and pasta).
In terms of its average nutritional breakdown: around 80 per cent of the calories found in koshary come from carbs, 15 per cent from proteins, and 5 per cent fats. An ideal dish for vegans and vegetarians, it is typically cholesterol-free, since it is a legume and grain-based dish, although some chains do offer koshary with toppings of minced beef.
Below are a variety of koshary outlets to suit your different needs, tastes and budgets.
Koshary Abou Tarek
Abou Tarek is a well-known giant in the world of koshary. Signs inside this massive restaurant read: “we have no other branch" and “help yourself by yourself" (not quite sure what that means in context of being served at this restaurant) along with “please pay before order." The waiters ask for payment immediately after taking your order, even before the arrival of your food. While this may seem curt, it is not done out of a lack of hospitality, but rather because a number of customers have apparently eaten and left without paying.
Abou Tarek’s koshary is well above average, although it is not quite the best in town. The salsa is great. Each table is furnished with little metallic teapots containing a mildly hot and spicy shattah. Prices range from LE3 to LE7. Although the menu on the wall indicates that they have fruit jelly, custard, and other deserts, they usually don’t, just the usual rice pudding and mahalabiyya. The friendly Tarek el Fiqqi, son of the store owner (after whom this shop is named,) says that “this restaurant stands out from amongst all the others in many ways. Other than our unparalleled product, to which you can attest, we also have the most seating spaces found in any koshary shop. We have four floors, which are all occupied around lunchtime. We also accept visa cards. "
Egyptian pop star Shaaban Abdel Reheem, has recorded a song called I Love Koshary Abu Tarek, in which he praises their tasty and high quality ingredients which, according to Shaabolla, “has reached international acclaim, Abou Tarek is 100/100 and he has many customers, he has a site on the net – aboutarek.com…haaaaaaaaay!" This has become the shop’s theme song and is frequently played throughout the working hours.
Working hours: from 10am-11:30pm
16 Maarouf St. Champollion, Downtown Cairo
Koshari El Tahrir
Beware of imitations. There are two different Koshari El Tahrir franchises:
(The original) Koshary El Tahrir
Marked with an indigo blue, white and red logo, the original shop is found on El Tahrir Street beside (what used to be) the American University’s Greek Campus in Downtown Cairo. This shop has a solid and widespread reputation for having the best koshary in Greater Cairo. The second and only other branch of this franchise is in Shobra. The original KT makes a truly perfect bowl of koshary prices ranging from LE4 to LE10 (note that plates which are over LE6 are absurdly large; and it is extremely unlikely that any normal/sane human being can consume a LE10 plate by his/herself.) Koshary to-go in plastic containers ranges in price from LE1.50 to LE8.
KT is also a master in the art of shattah-making, although some people argue that it is a bit too oily for their tastes. The shattah here is beyond ultra-hot; it is more like napalm. Do not douse your bowl with this stuff unless you are a fire eater! Instead, pour some into your spoon to measure the napalm; or pour (very) sparingly over your bowl of koshary. When asked how they make this fiery hell-liquid, the waiter replied with a smile: “I don’t make the food or the shattah, I just serve it to the customers." I assume it’s a secret recipe. KT has two floors with plenty of seating spaces, but unfortunately no bathroom.
Working hours: from 9am until 11pm
Tahrir: 169 Tahrir St.
Shobra: 119 Kholousi St.
(The new) Koshary El Tahrir
The numerous shops in this franchise are distinguished by their red, orange, yellow, green and white logo. According to the manager at the Nasr City branch “this is a separate chain which is owned and managed by the brother of the man who owns the other Tahrir chain." Although the shops in this franchise of Koshary El Tahrir are very decent, there’s something missing in their bowls. This franchise also has a slightly more expensive menu than that of the original KT. On the upside, they have plenty of seating spaces in their shops, bathrooms for men and women and a home delivery service.
Working hours: 10am – 2am
Delivery: from 10am until 12am
Nasr City, Abbas el-Aqqad St,: 2404-4855, 2404-4866, 2404-4877
Downtown Cairo, Abdel Khaleq Tharwat St.: 2396-1740, 2396-1750
Shobra: 2201-0045, 2201-0046
6th of October: 3837-0388, 3837-0399, 3837-0466
Tom & Basal
This franchise is a newcomer to the koshary arena, but it is shining brightly nonetheless. There is a certain sense of satisfaction that an experienced koshary eater may get even before digging into his/her bowl. That is the satisfaction of realizing that you have been given hefty toppings of lentils and chickpeas. There is an additional sense of satisfaction when you order an extra topping (of chickpeas, lentils, fried onions, or salsa – at LE1 per topping) and find that you are being given what looks like a double topping. Tom & Basal also specializes in pizza and fetteer. Most branches have spacious dining areas.
Working hours: Open 24/7
Delivery: from 8am-4am
Nasr City, Autostrad: 2690-4610, 2690-4620
Heliopolis, Sheraton Buildings: 2266-6751, 2266-6752
Other (non-delivery) branches:
Shobra: 264 Shobra St.
Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road: Dandy Mall
There are plenty of koshary shops with names like El Basha (The Pasha), El Khedewwi (The Khedive), El Brince (The Prince), El ‘Ommda (The Village/Town Chief) and while El Embarator may not be widely renowned as being “The Koshary Emperor, !" this relatively new franchise is definitely a heavy weight in terms of its service and food quality. Personally, I believe that the downtown branch offers the best koshary in Cairo. That is, after the (original) Koshary El Tahrir. Its cheerful and friendly waiters characterize the downtown branch. One waiter refers to every male customer as “el basha el gameel!" (the beautiful pasha) and every female customer as “sett el koll!" (Literally: woman of all).
The shattah here is extremely hot and will make you break a sweat. Waiters often warn customers in advance that:“el shattah narr, begadd mish hezarr!" (the shatta is fire, really not jokingly). When asked how the shattah is made a lighthearted waiter replied “it’s the secret of our trade!" When asked about how it is generally made, without giving up any secret ingredients, the waiter replied “you take a handful of red chili peppers and put them in a metallic plate which you place within your oven for ten hours, after ten hours you’ll realize that you have burnt it all, along with the insides of your oven, then you’ll probably decide to come over here and eat our koshary topped with our special shattah,!" responded the waiter with a hearty laugh. The Downtown branch, like most of the others in the Embrator franchise, does not have bathrooms.
Working Hours: Open 24/7
Delivery: from 10am-12am
El Manial: 2363-9540
El Zauwya El Hamra: 2424-1807
Nasr City: 2275-7101, 017-235-9086
Downtown Cairo: 33, 26th of July St. (no delivery at this branch)
Sheikh El Balad
With only one branch in Nasr City, Sheikh El Balad is one of the most celebrated koshary and fetteer restaurants in Cairo. An abundance of waiters ensure a speedy service. Although they make excellent koshary here, they are a bit too heavy on the rice and pasta and a bit too light on the chickpeas and lentils. Other than the usual soda drinks found in virtually all koshary shops, Sheikh El Balad offers a variety of freshly squeezed juices. With two floors, it has plenty of seating spaces, plus bathrooms.
Working Hours: 9am-2am
Delivery: from 10am-12am
Nasr City, 35 Abbas El Aqqad St.: 2261-0684
Abou El Sid
Abou El Sid is a franchise of upscale restaurants/pubs serving traditional and ‘authentic’ Egyptian dishes. Abou El Sid does not specialise in making koshary, it is merely one of the fifty dishes you can choose from. The atmosphere in the restaurant is upscale: dim lighting, classic furniture and Chant Avedisien art-work on the walls. Flavored shisha smoke fills the air (which may be discomforting to non-smokers), while tables lay a bit too low – forcing you to hunching over your meal in order to eat; not very comfortable at all. The prices match the atmosphere.
The menu listing reads: KOSHARY (FEEL LIKE A REAL EGYPTIAN)…LE22. In fact, the average working class citizen would feel like a really broke Egyptian if they took their family to eat koshary here. If you order a bottle of Stella to wash your koshary down, you’ll end up paying a total of around LE50, not including the 12 per cent service charge and 10 per cent sales tax. Abou El Sid’s koshary comes on a large ceramic plate, the consistency is too soupy, although the onions are fried just right and are not burnt. You have to ask for the shattah and daqqah. The first is far too mild, simply not spicy enough; while the daqqah is not available at all. The salsa, however, was quite a surprise, perhaps the most zesty and flavorful koshary salsa around!
Working hours: 12pm-1am
Zamalek, 157, 26th of July St.: 735-9640
Mohandeseen, 8 Amman Sq: 749-7326
Nasr City, City Stars Mall, 6th floor: 480-2231
Sharm El Sheikh, Neama Bay, 0696-03910
Maadi, Streets 45 & 7: 380-5050