Family brings Cairo’s street food to Boston    

An Egyptian American mother and daughter are getting Boston — long known for seafood and Italian cuisine — hooked on meatless versions of Cairo’s most popular street foods.

Sahar Ahmed opened the vegan Egyptian restaurant Koshari Mama with her daughter Dina Fahim in November 2021. Named for Egypt’s unofficial national dish, koshari, the restaurant serves vegan takes on traditional Egyptian fare, carrying on a family tradition that is both healthy and easy on the environment.

Ahmed, whose family immigrated to the United States in 1969, told ShareAmerica in an Arabic language interview that she grew up savoring her mother’s koshari on weekends.

2 photos of food with side dishes and sauces (Courtesy of Koshari Mama)
Koshari, left, and bamia, right (Courtesy of Koshari Mama)

“On Saturdays or Sundays, I would wake up to the smell of frying onions,” Ahmed said, remembering her mother cooking the dish, which consists of pasta, rice, chickpeas and lentils, topped with fried onions and spicy tomato and vinegar sauces. “My mother really missed Egypt, so she started making the foods that she loved.”

Soon Ahmed’s mother began inviting her neighbors over to share her Egyptian cuisine and culture.

“After my mother passed away, I wanted to keep up this tradition,” Ahmed says. “There is something about sharing a meal together that opens up conversations and lets people get to know each other.”

At the family restaurant, Ahmed takes orders and chats with the customers. Fahim, a graduate of Boston University’s culinary program, cooks the family’s Egyptian street food favorites. Although Koshari Mama’s menu is entirely vegan, Ahmed says vegetarianism is not the norm in Egypt, though meat consumption there is far lower than in the United States and Europe.

Many of Egypt’s popular dishes are meatless and Ahmed favors reducing, rather than eliminating, meat consumption. “If I can cut down a bit on eating meat, it’s better health-wise, and it’s better for our world,” she said.

Falafel (Courtesy of Koshari Mama)
Falafel (Courtesy of Koshari Mama)

Walter Willett, a Harvard professor of nutrition and epidemiology, says reducing meat consumption is both healthy and important for tackling the climate crisis. He encountered the Mediterranean diet, which mixes plant-based foods with lesser amounts of poultry, fish and dairy, in Egypt in the 1970s.

“In general, the Mediterranean diet is about the healthiest dietary pattern in the world, and a lot of it is because it emphasizes healthy, plant-based foods,” Willett said.

On a recent day at Koshari Mama, a mushroom-based shawarma and a vegan kunafa pastry were among customers’ top choices. “I’ve never had Egyptian food in my life and it was absolutely delicious,” one customer told ShareAmerica.

“It packs a punch of flavor,” another said. “So good.”

Learn more about Koshari Mama in our video on ShareAmerica’s Instagram feed.