Passing by New York Koshery in Bay Ridge, positioned along 86th Street’s primary commercial corridor, you wouldn’t be the first to assume that it specializes in fare conforming to the stringent regulations of kashrut. Because while koshery (also spelled koshari) is commonly heralded as the national dish of Egypt, it’s yet to become widely disseminated throughout NYC, even in a neighborhood that houses Brooklyn’s most robust Arab American community.
Literally borne of the melting pot that was 19th century cosmopolitan Cairo, its progenitor was likely an Indian staple called kishri (rice and mung beans), which British colonists brought back to the UK, and made the foundation of their own invention, kedgeree (rice, eggs, curry and fish). It traveled on to colonial Egypt, where locals largely abandoned the animal products, and added fried onions, garlic vinegar and daqqa (an aromatic spice mix) instead, and resident Italians contributed two peculiar—but going forward, fundamental—additions: a tomato sauce topping, and elbow macaroni base.
Eventually, koshary was streamlined to refer to a layered feast of rice, lentils and macaroni, slathered with spicy tomato sauce and seasoned vinegar, and finished with fried onions and chickpeas. In short, a substantial, cost-effective confluence of starches, to say nothing of a vegan’s dream—easy enough to assemble to order and eat on the go, despite its component parts. Which is why it’s become not just a staple of Egyptian restaurants, but a consummate street food as well, not to mention ideally suited to the current stateside, fast-casual playbook, instituted by Chipotle.
So kudos to New York Koshary, for being the first enterprising area eatery to go the build-it-yourself route with the dish. While patrons can opt out of decision making by ordering an Original—slapped together in seconds—for only $6.49, the opportunity for personalization abounds, whether via bases (gluten-free pasta), toppings (arugula) and sauces (salsa), or even a selection of proteins, nuts and seeds. And considering koshari’s multiculti backstory, other structured, globetrotting options don’t seem entirely out of left field; double down on the Italian influence with meatballs and basil, traverse the Mediterranean by way of tri-color couscous and dried cranberries, wander farther abroad with the Spicy Fiesta (quinoa, grilled chicken), or go all-in with the explosive Asian Fusion (coconut curry, steamed shrimp, teriyaki, brown rice)—the most expensive item on the menu, and still a mere $9.49.
Why then, attempt to construct a lunch from rootless lettuce wraps or abstemious cauliflower crumbs? In NYC’s most continental borough, the bowl to rule them all should be Egyptian koshary.