One school of thought on liver holds that it should never be cooked so long that the inside loses all of its pinkish-pink color and fades to a dull brown. This view is not likely to be shared by anyone who has eaten kebda Eskandarany, the beef liver sandwich that has spread from his native Alexandria to souks, street vendors and takeaways all over. Egypt.
The liver is sliced about as thick as a lasagna noodle before being seasoned with spices and sautéed. When it comes out of the pan, it has no pink interior. It has no interior at all, just a front side and a back side, both coarsely coated in chopped garlic, ground chilies, pepper and other spices under a burst of hot oil. At this point, the liver is stuffed into a slit made in a soft, pale fino aish bun, whose chewy tenderness falls somewhere between an Amoroso cheesesteak roll and a hot dog bun.
The usual complaints about overcooked liver are that it tastes dry and crisp. A creamy strip of tahini takes care of the first load. As for the second, the fresh green chilies and everything else in the sandwich conspire to change the livery from insult to deep compliment. Egypt imports most of the beef liver raised in the United States, buy more than 100 million books a year. By eating an Alexandrian liver sandwich, we begin to understand why.
More of that liver could be eaten in the United States if every American city had a Egyptian Foda Sandwiches Cart. As it stands, there’s only one, who sets up shop in Astoria, Queens, every day except Wednesday. It operates just off the stretch of Steinway Street populated by hookah cafes and grocery stores.
The care taken in Foda’s liver sandwich would be evident even if you didn’t know that cart owner and chef Ahmed Foda bakes the fino buns every morning before towing his cart to its usual spot on the sidewalk. . You’d see it in the limes and lemons that Mr. Foda saves to squeeze over the liver, and the little plastic bag of pickled vegetables, flavored with candied lemon, that he hands you to munch on.
Other stuff is hidden in the bins and drawers of Mr. Foda’s cart. One is a slightly tart pale green juice with bits of chopped herbs and vegetables swirling around in it. The menu on the outside wall of the cart calls it “spicy Egyptian salad juice” or, alternatively, “halal whiskey”. You’re supposed to sip it from its plastic condiment cup between bites of hawawshi, a Cairene street-life staple that’s either a grilled sandwich or a baked meat pie, depending on who makes it. .
Foda’s hawawshi is in the sandwich camp, surrounded by a split disc of flatbread that feels like pita until you bite down and it turns out to have the strong, satisfying crunch of a toasted English muffin. . Inside is a smashed patty of spiced ground beef in the same vein as kefta. Foda’s beef may be leaner, but extra juiciness is achieved by ordering the hawawshi with grilled cheese on top. When you eat it, the halal whiskey sips work like the dill pickle on a cheeseburger, but in liquid form.
Foda is not a trolley for people in a hurry to eat. Every time I go, whether there’s a line of customers or I’m the only one, Mr. Foda takes my order and tells me it’ll be ready in 20 minutes. “I do everything fresh,” he says.
Not quite. Ful medames is baked ahead of time to give the favas time to soften and crumble into a creamy spread with seemingly unlimited capacity to drink olive oil. Same goes for Foda’s tameeya blend, made with favas but spiced like falafel. Later, while you wait, it is shaped into flat wheels and fried. He pulls out oil sprinkled with sesame seeds that look like nuggets on a tiny little cake.
The dish that seems to take the longest to prepare, the one responsible for my 20 minute wait, is the koshary, and yet I can’t imagine being in such a rush that I didn’t have time for Foda’s koshary . Lying on a fluffy bed of lentils and rice are broken strands of spaghetti and tubes of short pasta, freshly boiled so they stay firm and don’t clump together. On top, boiled chickpeas with garlic and finally, a thatch of golden fried onions.
Mr. Foda provides plastic cups of what he calls garlic sauce – the garlic-infused chickpea water – as well as a concentrated, spicy, cumin-flavored tomato sauce and an oil rust color cooked with ground spices. The rest you do yourself, adding condiments as desired and stirring the whole mass together.
You can supplement the koshary with fried liver or lean sections of lightly spiced porphyry-colored beef sausage. If you eat the entire bowl of starches and legumes on your own, there’s always a good chance that you won’t be hungry for a considerable amount of time.
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