Located between the library and Blackstone Residence Hall is a new food cart pod that just opened at the beginning of Fall Quarter. Inside that pod is a small, white cart called Peri Köshari. The cart only serves one item, a traditional Egyptian street food called Köshari. It is owned and operated by 23-year-old Faisal Ghazi Faisal.
“I only make traditional Köshari,” says Faisal, “nothing else. I always thought, you make one thing and you make it good and you make it consistent and then you will do good. So that’s what I did.”
Köshari is a traditional Egyptian street food. Faisal says there are Köshari carts on almost every corner in Cairo. The smell is one of his fondest memories. The meal itself is completely vegan, with only six main ingredients. You start with Egyptian rice and some elbow pasta. Brown rice is the only addition to the menu, for those who don’t eat white rice. Next, you add lentils, chickpeas, and homemade tomato sauce, both made with traditional Egyptian spices. Then you top the whole thing off with crispy caramelized onions. Faisal has me eat the meal in stages. First by itself, then with his own handmade garlic vinegar sauce, then with his homemade hot sauce.
The mixture of flavors is complex and quite honestly, delicious. Each addition seems to add another dimension of taste. It definitely reminds me of a comfort food. The taste profile is reminiscent of ratatouille from France or goulash from Russia. However, the spices in the lentils and chickpeas, the caramelized onions and the jam-like tomato sauce make it distinctive from anything I have tasted before.
Faisal was born in Saudi Arabia, but he has lived in many places: Jordan, Egypt, and most recently, Malaysia. He moved here to Portland about five years ago after transferring from an affiliated school outside of the capital city, Kuala Lumpur, and graduated from the Portland State School of Business last summer with a degree in marketing.
Faisal’s parents are as diverse as his travels. His father is Palestinian and his mother is Russian. Presently his parents and siblings, including his sister, still live in Saudi Arabia. “They are excited to drive,” he said. “My mom said that she is going to drive them all over from now on.”
Saudi Arabia only recently passed a law allowing women to drive. “Most people don’t know a lot about Saudi Arabia, but they know that women can’t drive,” Faisal said. “If you go there, people are very nice. They are loving and accepting. If they see an American, they are like, ‘Wow, we watch you guys in the movies.’”
Faisal said his family has traveled extensively and this has made them more open-minded and accepting. “Intensive travel gives you a lot of ideas,” Faisal said. “It makes you get out of your bubble. If you live in one place and you travel, it broadens you.”
Faisal noted that his travels allowed him to meet many different kinds of people and eat all different kinds of food. Had he not grown up in Egypt, he would never have opened this food cart. “Whenever I see someone trying to save money I always advise them to travel because that is the best way to spend your money.”