Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The world’s biggest koshari

Egypt has won a Guinness World Record for the world’s biggest plate of the national dish of koshari, reports Salonaz Sami

Al-Ahram Weekly

Koshari is one of Egypt’s most famous national dishes. Although not Egyptian in origin, this vegetarian dish of rice and lentils with pasta, tomato sauce, chickpeas and fried onions has long been part of the country’s history.

In an attempt to celebrate this dish, and to gain a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, the country has now made the world’s largest dish of koshari.

Engezni, Egypt’s first social food network, teamed up with Abou Tarek, a well-known koshari chain, and MBC Masr, to make a 10-metre-by-1.2-metre dish of koshari last weekend, the first ever of its kind. The idea, according to the co-founder and CEO of Engezni, Ahmed Al-Shenawi, was to launch the new start-up in style and win a new world record.

Al-Shenawi, along with Amr Ashraf and Nada Bashir, three students at the American University of Cairo (AUC), came up with the idea of Engezni (“Do it for me”) to meet the demand for the online ordering of food in Egypt. Unlike current online ordering, which uses call centres to take customers’ orders, Engezni has contracts with restaurants in Cairo and Alexandria, allowing them to use an online portal to connect directly with customers.

The customer simply places an order and the restaurant receives it directly through any device with a web browser. The new application also allows customers to upload food photographs, restaurant reviews and connect with friends.

It’s a great idea, according to Mariam Mosaad, a trainer. “Now I no longer waste time wondering where to order from or what to eat,” she said. “I just check out friends’ recommendations and choose from them instead.”

The initial plan was to hold a “koshari festival” to launch the new application last November. However, owing to UK foreign office recommendations to avoid travel to Egypt, the Guinness Book of World Records declined to send a judging committee to confirm the record bid.

“We believe that Egypt is safe and despite any minor events that have taken place we are fully capable of securely hosting international events and will prove this to the world,” said Amr Ashraf, co-founder of Engezni.

The day was a great success, with colourful tents and kiosks set up under the palm trees at Al-Horriya Gardens, one of the oldest and biggest green spaces in Zamalek. Numerous restaurant stalls offered delicious treats, while others showcased their products, from woven baskets and handmade accessories to bicycles and sports equipment.

While the all-day event officially started at 11 am, the cooking actually started the night before. More than ten chefs from the Abou Tarek chain spent the night cooking eight tons of rice, lentils, pasta, onions, chickpeas and tomatoes, enough to feed thousands.

All the ingredients were then transported and carefully put together on location for the Guinness World Records judging committee to measure, making sure the bid conformed to their standards. The end result was magnificent.

“We aim to turn koshari from being a national dish to being an international one through this event,” explained Tarek Youssef, son of the chain’s owner. “This will hopefully be the first of more successful koshari-related events to come,” he added. “And a little publicity for our restaurant won’t do any harm either.”

Abou Tarek was founded in 1960 and, for many Egyptians, is synonymous with koshari. Famous folk artist Shaaban Abdel-Rihem came to the event with his son to show his support. “Koshari is my favourite meal. I could eat it every day and not get bored,” Abdel-Rihem told the Weekly.

“I am glad I am here today in this sunny weather, promoting koshari and supporting my friend Abou Tarek,” he said. But it wasn’t only Abdel-Rihem who was happy to be at the event. Dozens of fans, mostly women, gathered around him in a frenzied attempt to take pictures with their beloved artist.

Koshari is not Egyptian in origin and is said to have come from an Indian rice and lentil dish called kitchiri. It was brought to Egypt by the British in the 19th century. Later the Italian community in Egypt added their favourite ingredient to the dish, pasta. Egyptians then added the vinegar-infused tomato sauce, chickpeas and fried onions that make up the koshari we know today.

But last weekend’s event was not just about koshari. “This event will raise awareness about food tourism in Egypt generally, by introducing the world to our local dishes,” said Engy Ibrahim, one of the event’s participants. “After all, you can’t visit Egypt and not eat koshari. If you do, you will miss a lot.”

“We also hope to shine a light on one of Egypt’s problems, which is hunger,” added Mona Gamal, one of the Egyptian food bank volunteers at the event. After feeding all the visitors, estimated by organisers to be more than 6,000, “the remains of the dish were distributed by food bank volunteers to 8,000 poor and needy people,” Gamal said.

“Our volunteers also spent the day educating visitors about the importance of putting food leftovers to use instead of wasting them,” she added.

And as if all the good food along with breaking the world record was not enough, the festive day concluded with a fireworks show by Sami Youssef, followed by a performance by the band Cairokee.

The koshari record was the second Guinness World Record the country has obtained in recent months. Last September, Egyptian diver Ahmed Gaber successfully claimed the world record for the deepest scuba dive after he reached a depth of 332.33 metres in the Red Sea.

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