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They weren’t kidding when they told me that Koshari was a staple of the Egyptian diet. Make that 2 uh… 3 staples. Sometimes 4. How else would one characterize a dish with rice, macaroni and vermicelli? Add an equal proportion of brown lentils, a handful of chickpeas and there you have it, Koshari. Served with a small bowl of tomato sauce and topped with crispy fried onions, it’s the Egyptian interpretation of the Indian Khichidi. It’s yet another example of the familiar-but-different moments that I’ve encountered since I landed here. And one of those rare instances where there was no loss in translation (unlike the British mutation of khichidi that they call kedgeree, but I won’t taint my ode to starches with a bitter note).

While certain restaurants do feature koshari on their menus, I think the dives offer the tastiest and most authentic experience by far. My personal favorite – El Tahrir Koshari, around the corner from AUC in downtown Cairo – serves it with a pair of condiments at the table. A mildly seasoned vinegar, which I generally ignore, and a fiery hot chili oil (shattah) that I add liberally to my bowl. No menu. The first time I asked I was told, “Small, Medium, Large” and on another occasion, when I was ordering it to go, “3 pounds 4 points 5 pounds etc.” Not pounds in weight but as in currency, Egyptian pounds mind you. Just about the cheapest lunch I can get anywhere – the 3 pound portion is more than adequate as is the small when I sit down to eat (except perhaps the fu’ul and tameiya sandwiches around the corner, subject of a separate post). I always ask for extra besel (onions) which they are happy to provide for an extra 23-50 piasters.

El Tahrir is high on the list of things I will miss when AUC moves to the new campus next year. While I don’t visit it every day I have become a regular, stopping by once a week or so to get my fix. I nearly had an existential crisis about a month after getting here, when I found the place shut down and emptied out. I only breathed easy after I heard that this was the standard practice over Ramadan and that they would reopen. Il humdullah, they did.

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