On arrival, it seemed that the restaurant’s backstreet credentials weren’t working in its favour – it was completely devoid of customers. However, the lack of human bodies did at least afford me the opportunity to appreciate the colourful, kitsch and clean interior, designed in the style of a street, complete with lamppost, a pedestrian crossing leading to the checkout, and proper pavements. There was already something special about King Koshari and I was eager to sample the one dish this restaurant served.
The dish in question, ‘koshari’, is a hugely popular form of street food in Egypt, according to the chirpy waitress behind the till. (Some post-dinner Googling revealed that its origins are attributed to the Indian dish kitchri, brought over by the British in the early 20th century.) For those unfamiliar with the concept (myself included), the dish itself comprises rice, macaroni, and spaghetti topped with tomato sauce, chickpeas, lentils and onions.
For all its graces (and, in my opinion, there are many), koshari is not a dish for the dieter – it’s packed with layer upon layer of carbohydrate and the only ingredient that isn’t lentil, rice or pasta is fried to a crisp. But those who care more about taste rather than their waist are in for a treat. Happily, I fall into the latter category and was intrigued by the hearty portion of chick peas, fried dried onions, stewed tomato sauce and macaroni that sat before me. Prying further into the dish with my fork, I uprooted yet more pasta – this time spaghetti-shaped – and brown rice.
The koshari was served alongside a small pot of chilli sauce and another of pungent garlic vinegar. Without knowing what exactly what was to be done with these, I poured the entire contents of each pot onto the koshari and gave it a mix. The impromptu mixture resulted in the ultimate comfort food – the garlic vinegar gave the contrasting texture of pastas and rice a wonderfully tart tang, and the chilli provided an exotic vigour to what could otherwise have been fairly bland ingredients.
Halfway though my koshari bucket, I was joined by two other guests who seemed infinitely better acquainted with the dish. To my relief, I saw that they too mixed the chilli and garlic vinegar into the pasta before tucking in. My gaze returned to my own portion and though I was already full, I couldn’t leave the remaining koshari. This didn’t bode well for my chilled rice-pudding dessert, which, in the spirit of the main course, was stodgy and filling, but wholly appetising. What did surprise me when I reached over for the small pot was that it was chilled, making it as much an ice cream as a rice pudding. It was sickly sweet, but strangely moreish, and I ate as much as I could before the inevitable carb-induced food coma set in.
In an area choked with Western fast-food chains, King Koshari has created a wonderful niche for itself and, providing its backstreet location doesn’t prove too difficult for the Marina’s late-night diners to find, deserves the cult following its koshari demands.
The bill (for one)
1x Medium combo meal Dhs15
Total (excluding service) Dhs15