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Making Koshary in Dahab, Egypt with Ali

There is only one Egyptian entree that I have found only in Egypt and nowhere else in the world. It is an amazing meal called koshary.

Egyptians make this dish with rice, noodles, lentils and tomatoes. They also sprinkle slivers of fried onions on top. This gives the hot, slightly spicy bowl a bit of crispiness. My favorite Egyptian koshary is in the South Sinai town of Dahab. By far the most popular koshary in Dahab is made by a man named Ali. I was happy that he invited me to his home one night to see how he makes it.

In Dahab, you won’t find koshary in restaurants. Rather, it is sold as street food. Many days of the week you can see Ali pushing through the streets a small blue cart decorated with the Egyptian flag, his koshary kept warm in a metal vat.

Ali with his cart, after making koshary in Dahab, Egypt
Ali and his koshary cart

Ali begins his koshary walk in the late morning every day except for the Muslim holy day of Friday. He stops whenever he runs out. Or whenever he feels like stopping.  Because this is Dahab, Egypt after all, where life is very easy and time is whatever you want it to be.

Ali lives in the Asalah district of Dahab where I was also living at the time of the koshary invitation.  In Asalah there are no addresses. You find people’s homes by describing their location, such as “I live by the big mosque, next to the house of Ibrahim the taxi driver.”

When Ali invited me to his home to watch him cook koshary, I knew the language of directions in Asalah. Not well enough, though, to find his house. I ended up in one of the district’s many closet-sized supermarkets telling the owner I was looking for “Ali koshary.” The shopkeeper nodded in understanding and called Ali. Ali then sent sent his smiling pre-teen daughter to come find me and lead me down the dark, empty streets of sand to their home.

As Ali led me to the kitchen, I said hello to his wife and children who were sitting on cushions on the living room floor watching television. In the Bedouin culture people sit on the floor and the ground, not on sofas and chairs. I myself sat on the kitchen floor to watch Ali cook.

Ali has been making koshary in Dahab for almost 25 years. We talked as I watched him boil onions and slice tomatoes. After a while, he fed me another meal he’d already cooked of lamb and vegetables and rice. Ali told me that the few hours I spent watching the creation of the most popular koshary in Dahab is just a short portion of the time he spends cooking it almost every night.


A portion of the ingredients for koshary in Dahab, Egypt



Ali Khosary making koshary in Dahab, Egypt

Since Ali makes koshary for the masses, any recipe he uses is multiplied by at least 25. In case you want to try it yourself, here’s a recipe for a regular portion of this Egyptian dish.

Ali’s koshary is the best because, for Ali, cooking is not just about food, it is not just about money. It is the Bedouin sense of sharing.  “I eat something good,” Ali says, “I have to give it to the people.”

Ali's Koshary in Dahab, Egypt


(This updated post was first published on September 11, 2017.)

Sabina Lohr is a freelance writer who shines a light on the cultures of the Middle East through non-fiction storytelling, interviews with local figures, and insightful articles. She has traveled extensively through the region for more than 15 years and has lived in Israel, Egypt and the U.A.E.

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