Koshary, Shisha, Tabla & Cairo Traffic
Some of us like it rough & dirty and Cairo Egypt is city that would not be considered clean or smooth by any western standards. I can not speak for the very nice and westernized areas of the city, I am only speaking about the heart of Cairo. I spent a month and a half there once many years ago and endured dirt and pollution into my skin and lungs daily. I enjoyed it so much that I used my 9 hour layover to go back to Cairo and see and do a few of the things I remember most. So I met up with my friend, cabdriver, Egyptian hustler Nasir and his magical dust cab.
Dont Front! Nabir used this car the same way Hans Solo used the Millenium Falcon – he used a small screwdriver to get that tape player working and of course had a customized horn button – true Egyptian stylee.
Actually one of my main goals in Cairo was to get this picture of a hand drawn Michelin man which I kept laughing at no matter how many times I saw it. 8 years later it was still there. I was never able to get a picture before because the owner always looked so angry. Lo and behold after taking this picture, the guy below got mad and asked for money for taking the pictrure.. Yeah right bro, no way. Thanks to Nabir he got set straight:
Forget Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum and all that tourist trap stuff, I like Koshary, a simple and strange but addictive and cheap local dish. I wanted to eat Egypt’s national dish from the minute I saw Cairo from the plane, Koshary! Why do I call it strange? because the ingredient combination makes no sense to me and have never figured out how Egypt’s historical background even came to have this odd combination of ingredients in is national dish. The name is actually and acronym K.O.S.H.A.R.Y. but excuse my bad job reporting here because I can not remember which letter stands for which ingredient. They are : rice, brown lentils, macaroni or spaghetti noodles, chickpeas, spicy tomato sauce (the secret ingredient in my opinon), carmalized onions, and garlic-vinegar or and lime dressing.
Accoring to Nabir, up until the 80’s Mr. Abou Tarek sold Koushary from a push cart in the heart of Cairo streets as an affordable food alternative for low income Muslims who could not afford meat. His formula apparently became the favored choice of the people. Eventually Mr. Tarek revolutionized Koushary when he opened up his restaurant at 16 Shampilion street in Cairo.
In Islamic fashion of having big posters of political leaders and family members, Mr Abou Tarek plasters huge poster of his smiling mug shot inside all the five floors of his famed restaurant:
ahh, that Abou Tarek, he just loves himself. Loving yourself is a good thing. I love myself too. Its time to print out a huge picture of myself and put it in my living room, eh, might as well put it in every room in my house.
Regardless of the gaudy interior and Mr Abou’s ego his Koshary recipe is definitely regarded as the best in Egypt. I absolutely love it and had to go get some. It could be considered an acquired taste at first, but if you want to travel cheap in Egypt, eventually you will LOVE Koushary. It is less than a dollar for a big portion so go figure. My mouth watered for it as soon as I got into Egypt.. Strange huh?
This how it it served, along with fresh lemon juice and vinegar condiments which are not seen in this picture.
everyone has their own way of blending the ingredients but I always mixed it up well and added a lot of lemon, my Peruvian side you know.
While you wolf down that Koushary, you can enjoy the gaudy interior with fountains of course. This is considered one of the best places for Koshary in Cairo, by no means should you expect to find fountains in other Cairo restaurants. Enjoy the flash intro to the Abou Tarek Restaurant website, personally I get a kick out of it.
Since Muslims are not supposed to drink alcohol, shisha, teas, and tabla (Backgammon) are hands down the most popular activities in Egypt and pretty much all over the Muslim world. In the heart of Cairo you see these Shisha places in almost every corner and they are always full of men, never women. In fact, you don’t see too many women period, just dudes….dudes and more dudes…. ugh… but when in Cairo enjoy some shisha and tabla and tea.
Nabir and I just kept it very local and played backgammon, smoked apple flavored shisha, and drank tea.
I felt lucky enough to see this well known local 80+ year old eccentric Christian-Egyptian lady who dyes her hair yellow and wears interesting clothes. She actually belongs in San Francisco. Nabir could not remember her name.
Finally, TRAFFIC in Cairo, my favorite amusement. Conventional talkers and guidebooks will probably tell you its THE WORST. I disagree, it’s the best. First of all, Egyptians have a slick way of communicating with light taps of the horn. It does not come off angry, its more like,”hey I’m right here, don’t hit me.” They use the horn so much that most drivers have custom horn buttons that are usually all worn out from frequent use. Secondly, pedestrians crossing streets. Drivers don’t usually stop and let you cross. It is more like, you and some other pedestrians build some critical mass and then start walking across the street all at once. It was scary the first time I did it, but after a while it became fun. Believe me you won’t get hit. Finally, in Cairo most drivers do not use headlights. They just don’t see the point. Many people put colors on their headlights for decoration. It looks cool at night. Here is a video I edited for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy: