Farmers Market Finds: Egyptian Koshari and Kebab Plates in Kaka‘ako and Kailua
Kebabjii Cairo Barbecue debuts at the market with kebab plates, while Middle Eats scoops up Egypt’s national dish.
Farmers markets are breeding grounds for food innovation and some of Hawai‘i’s most successful restaurants. Frolic’s series spotlights some of these ‘ono finds.
What: Grilled meat kebabs and kofta plates; koshari rice and grain pilaf
How much: $12.99 to $24
What market: Honolulu Farmers Market, 777 Ward Ave.; Kailua Farmers Market, 609 Kailua Road
Vendor schedule: Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. (Honolulu), Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. (Kailua),
I’m standing in a longer-than-usual line for the Local General Store when I notice a new vendor at the Honolulu Farmers Market. Today the market curves around the Blaisdell Arena, its alternate layout, with tents lined up post topost. Kebabjii Cairo Barbecue stands out as it shares a tent with its plant-based sister brand Middle Eats that serves falafel plates.
I give my friend a “looks like I found dinner” nudge as my eyes scan the short menu of grilled kebab plates, my kryptonite. I pick up my pastries, then turn around to order a lamb kofta plate ($24) and a small bowl of koshari ($12), something I’ve never had before. I find out it is the national dish of Egypt and a popular street food in Cairo. If the hype is real over there, I need to see what it’s all about over here. While I wait, I sip on an iced karkade ($5), a tart, ruby red hibiscus tea similar to Mexican agua de jamaica. It’s refreshing and soothing as I wallow in the evening’s humidity.
Each kebab plate includes a bed of turmeric basmati rice, grilled veggies and a tahini-based dipping sauce. In addition to lamb kofta, protein options include chicken ($18) and beef ($22) skewers or you can order a mixed platter that feeds three to four people ($54) with two of each skewer. My lamb kebabs are hefty, weighing just over a quarter pound each. Spiced with aromatic herbs, they’re still a little juicy by the time I get home. The turmeric rice is borderline crunchy, but the grilled peppers, onions and kofta with fluffy pita bread are enough to satisfy me for two meals if I include the koshari.
I’ve committed carb-on-carb crimes in the past, but I am not prepared for koshari. Built like a pilaf, it starts with a base of cumin-spiced lentils and chickpeas, upon which are layered aromatic vermicelli rice, spaghetti and macaroni and then a topping of mildly spiced tomato sauce and crispy fried onions. On the side you get two condiments: a garlicky vinegar sauce and a spicy red chile sauce. Eat them with bites of koshari. I mix the pilaf to get all of the layers in each bite. The varying textures are a result of each ingredient made separately and combined at the very end.
It tastes like something you might make if your parents left you home alone and told you to feed yourself. But your cupboard only has pasta, rice and grains with a full spice rack. As a carb fiend, I’m in love.
Although Middle Eats has been at the farmers markets for nearly a year, their falafel wasn’t enough of a draw for me personally. With the addition of Kebabjii’s grilled kebab plates and koshari, I am tempted to make multiple visits to satisfy my Middle Eastern cravings, and I’m bringing friends.
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