Koshari: Food and the Italy-Egypt Connect

Dishes like the Koshari stand testament to the large degree of cultural exchange between Italy and Egypt.

Food and Cultural Exchange:

The intercultural exchange that GoUNESCO promotes through its tasks provides opportunities to understand and experience foreign culture in the most interactive way. Using the local kitchen as the point of reference for this task, I connected with my Egyptian partner, Mariam, to obtain a recipe from her motherland.

She shared the recipe for a dish called ‘Koshari’ with me, and I was able to experiment with the flavors implemented in an Egyptian kitchen. I also wanted to look at how Egypt and Sardinia are linked, to show that these notions of cultural exchange are in fact, not new at all!

Archaeological findings suggest that there has been some connection between Sardinia and Egypt. An ancient population by the name of ‘Sherden’ is said to have interacted with the Egyptian people for quite a long period of time, as suggested by iconographic records of ancient warriors carrying spears and shields. These ‘Sea People’, as they were also called, were said to come from the Mediterranean. Similar iconographic records of these warriors dating back to 1600 BC have also been found in Sardinia.

Going beyond just historical records and archaeological findings, one can look at the notions of food and subsistence to try and trace whether cultures are related to one another in certain ways, or whether they have had interactions with one another in the distant past.

The Koshari:

The dish ‘Koshari’, which I made in my kitchen, is an Egyptian dish that is widely popular among the labor class due to its inexpensive and simple character. It is flavored with lentils and spices, and the base is made from a common ingredient in the Italian kitchen: Pasta.

The Koshari is packed with carbohydrates. It is the perfect meal for those indulging in rigorous physical activity.
Image Courtesy: The Independent

Koshari dates back to the mid 19th century, when Egypt was at its peak with regards to cultural exchange. It is considered a dish that is distinctly national, and most street vendors in the country serve this dish. The dish is packed with carbohydrates and energy, and hence, it is favored by the working class.

It is interesting to look at how this ‘local dish’ has several foreign influences. The Italian and Indian influences through the use of basmati rice/ spices and pasta are undeniable. Cultural exchanges apparently added these elements together over time.

The Recipe:

  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 1 cup uncooked  pasta (small shells or elbow macaroni is best)
  • 2 large onions , diced
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 4 cloves garlic , minced
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 (400 g) can  chopped tomatoes
  • 14 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • salt and black pepper
The ingredients for the Koshari are fairly simple.
Image Courtesy: The Mediterranean Dish

The Process:

  • Boil the lentils in a vessel with water till they reach a soft, cooked consistency
  • Cook the rice in vegetable oil until it gets coated with it. Add a teaspoon of salt and 3 cups of water. Boil for 25 minutes till the water evaporates.
  • Boil the macaroni in salt water till they are lightly firm to eat. Drain using a sieve and keep aside.
  • Caramelize the onions in a skillet with some vegetable oil. After they have turned a golden brown colour, add garlic and cook again.
  • Place half of the onion mixture into a pan to make the sauce base. Mix in a little but of vinegar. Add chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, black pepper, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, cloves and cumin. Let the mixture boil, and simmer it for around 12 minutes.
    The two mixtures must be layered onto one another carefully.
    Image Courtesy: M Giulia Scalas
  • Serve by placing a spoonful of rice, then macaroni, and then the lentils on serving plates. Sprinkle with some of the browned onions, then top with tomato sauce.
    Here’s the final product!
    Image Courtesy: M Giulia Sclas

Therefore, it is clear that the Koshari is actually pretty easy to cook. It is no wonder that it was mainly eaten by laborers, since a quick fix in the boiling heat of the Egyptian Sun is something that would definitely be necessary.

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