How I fell in love with kushari Egypt's khichdi in Cairo

#1 Dec 1st, 2017, 22:31
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There is no "khichdi talk" about it. Kushari is Egypt's national dish. Unequivocally. It is also a rather unusual choice for a national dish in a country that is full of eateries serving kababs, koftas and, ahem, grilled pigeons stuffed with rice. Unlike other popular food items that you may see on a platter in Egypt, kushari is an all-vegetarian preparation. It's as vegan and carb-rich as India's khichdi.

That similarity is not accidental. The origins of kushari some write it as Koshari or Koshary are shrouded in mystery. But everyone agrees, from celebrated Egyptian chefs to thousands of ordinary Egyptians who throng hundreds of kushari joints in Cairo daily, that this is a relatively new dish in the country. It started appearing on dinner plates in the beginning of the 20th century in Egypt, and it wasn't until the middle of the century that it became popular. Now, Egyptians can't get enough of it.

One story about the kushari's origin and there are several links it to India's khichdi. It makes a lot of sense. The name is similar. So are the ingredients and the simplicity of the dish. This story starts around World War I. In those days, Egypt was under the control of the British, who also ruled India. When the great war came to Egypt, Britishers moved many Indian soldiers to the country. It is speculated that these soldiers introduced khichdi to Egypt.

Once khichdi entered Egyptian homes and eateries, it underwent a transformation. Although, they are similar khichdi and kushari they are different in some significant ways. The biggest difference is in the way kushari and khichdi are cooked. Unlike khichdi, that is prepared with all its ingredients simmering in a pot, all the major ingredients of kushari are cooked separately. They are mixed later, just before the dish is served. Talking of ingredients, it has more than what you will find in your average khichdi. After it reached Egypt, over the years, more ingredients were apparently added to khichdi. It acquired a local flavour. Of these, two were most significant.



Kushari a la khichdi: The name is similar. So are the ingredients and the simplicity of the dish. Photo: Javed Anwer

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