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Sheer culinary bliss
I think about 7% of the adult British population is vegetarian, and this in one of the most vegetarian countries in the world. And although I know a lot of vegans myself, I think we barely register on the scale. So you can imagine that in many countries without any appreciable vegetarian culture it is considered rather off the beaten track.
One of the questions my sister, also a vegan, asks me when I settle in in a new country is how I’m coping as a vegan there. So far I’ve generally replied that it goes down well with the locals, and I can always find things to cook, but that eating out can hit a few snags.
Not in Egypt! Although vegetarianism there is also comparatively rare, many local and national dishes are made without any animal ingredients at all. And the finest food ever to grace tables is to be had in every neighbourhood in sunny Cairo, and sunny beyond. The richest of dishes, the entrepreneur of the spice world, koshary. It is said to refelect the vegan diets adopted by Coptic Christians during Lent, although its consumption is by no means limited to this group today.
Without simplicity, simple pleasures are impossible and koshary respects this law listing as its ingredients a standard combination of macaroni, spaghetti, rice, brown lentils, chick peas, tomato and garlic sauce and a chilli sauce, all topped with fried onions. Some restaurants will also serve it with very slight quantities of fine brown noodles. Proportions may vary, and occasionally the chick peas may be omitted completely, but the list above is a virtual guarantee of what the dish includes. The chilli sauce comes separately and is added by the customer to taste.
I always added the chilli sauce even though you don’t always know where it’s been. Koshary without spice, what!? I know I ended up with a giant intestinal fluke but it wasn’t from koshary, I’m sure it came from the unwashed hands of the ta’ameya chef in another place I went once or twice.

The photographer

This is my good friend Aydogan, who kindly took these photos for me (although not the one of koshary on the far right).
Koshary is such a mighty food that no other food is served alongside it. For koshary restaurants are purely that; koshary, koshary, and more koshary.
And rightly so! You wouldn’t sell tin in a jeweller’s.

Koshary Hend, Heliopolis

Best restaurant in the world
Best restaurant in the world
Koshary restaurants are common and most neighbourhoods in Cairo have at least one. Food is cooked in a separate room but served by a team of men stood by huge metal cylinders full of the ingredients, next to the window of the restaurant. These men are always gifted. They never drop chick peas no matter how fast they serve (and sometimes they serve very very fast), and they never forget who ordered what.

Sadly, most restaurants don’t have websites, but I never had any doubt which was my favourite. Koshary Hend, based on El Corba, Heliopolis. The mass of customers whenever you go is testimony to the food and the service, which was always very fast, courteous, and in Arabic. For a koshary addict interested in learning Arabic, it was great. They do speak English for those who need it, so like I said, there is no better place.
Other places worthy of praise have names which have by now escaped my memory, but Abou Tarek in the city centre is a fine family-run restaurant with a very good reputation. There is also a great koshary place next to Gad in Giza, called Abo Emad, and one in Agouza near the British Council. The service there is second to none. El Omda in Mohandiseen is famous and worth its good reputation, although it isn’t a specialist koshary outlet. I also found a super one in Midan Hegaz, also in Heliopolis (I believe also part of the Hend chain) and just before I left town a new place opened across the road from my flat on Mahrousa Street, Mohandiseen. This is just off Ahmed Orabi street near Tawfikia Tennis Club.

Recipe - Serves 4

1 1/3 cup(s) uncooked brown or white rice
2/3 lbs lentils
1 1/3 tablespoon(s) vegetable oil, divided
2/3 tablespoon crushed garlic
1 1/3 can(s) tomato sauce(16-ounce)
1/3 cup(s) water
1/6 cup(s) vinegar
2/3 medium onion
• Cook rice as you would normally (it should be soft but not mushy).
• Rinse lentils and put them in a pot, covering them with water and bring to a boil. Then simmer on a low heat until they are well cooked. Don’t let them boil dry, add extra water if more time is needed.
• Cook the spaghetti and macaroni together. It should be soft, al dente is not the right consistency for koshary.
To make the sauce, first saute the garlic in 1/2 of the oil until golden. Add all of the tomato sauce and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Then:
• Add water and vinegar and bring to a boil. Remove from heat immediately and add salt to taste.
• Finally, slice onion in thin, small pieces and sauté in the remaining half of the oil until brown and crispy.
The dish should be arranged as a layer of spaghetti and macaroni with lentils at the bottom, followed by a layer of rice, then another layer of lentils and another layer of rice. Sprinkle the onions and the sauce on top before serving.
This recipe is from

Well amazingly I didn't have any photos of koshary so I found this on the internet. So strictly it shouldn't be here, but on the grounds that anybody inclined to put a picture of a pasta based sauce topped dish on the web would most likely see my plagiarism as a tribute to their culinary preferences, I decided to take the risk.

Other Egyptian food I enjoyed

I was always keen on ta’ameya which is similar to falafel, only made with fava beans instead of chick peas. It’s not quite as nice, but cheap, vegan and very nice with pitta bread and salad. And then there’s fool which is also fava beans, but mashed into a thick sauce. It has a salty taste and goes very nicely with pitta bread or ta’ameya pieces. The only thing that stopped me living on it was the fact that I was generally too busy eating koshary. Another delicacy normally suitable for veggies is mashy which is stuffed aubergines, courgettes and something else I know not what. Normally the filling is rice but it can be made with other things too.
You can even put koshary in there, but I think you have to do that yourself.