There is a hunger everyone with roots far from their adopted home knows, one that cannot be sated with chili dogs, American cheese products or any of the U.S.’s admittedly many strange charms.
A hunger for the taste of cheeses not found in the deli of your local supermarket chain, for the smell of jasmine blooming down a dusty street, for the gentle clinking of a favorite aunt’s armful of bangles, for a sardonic retort in a language your asking-for-it colleague wouldn’t understand.
It was a hunger Fava Pot owner Dina Daniel knew well when, against the advice of colleagues, she left behind an established career in the nonprofit world to start a food truck that served Egyptian street food.
“D.C. is a diverse city, so you find great Lebanese food, you find great Persian food, you find great Afghan food, but there is no Egyptian food,” Daniel says.
This November, Fava Pot is taking a step toward righting that wrong by opening another brick-and-mortar location in the DMV — this time in Dupont Circle. Like the Union Market location, the new Fava Pot will focus on an Egyptian street food menu, as opposed to the Egyptian kitchen menu offered at its Falls Church location.
Daniel reminisced about the struggle of finding Egyptian restaurants in the D.C. area — a diverse area full of Arab, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean eatery options, but none that offer uniquely Egyptian cuisine.
For the uninitiated, one of those unique dishes is koshary — a carb bomb of a dish consisting of rice, macaroni, lentil and tomato sauce (the spicier, the better, in my opinion). Or ta’amiya, the Egyptian take on falafel, made of fava beans rather than chickpeas.
Even molokhia, a dish served in various forms around the Mediterranean, is unique in its Egyptian form: it’s served as soup, made from a minced vegetable, with lots of garlic and cumin (but no lime, as it is served in other cultures).
Before opening Fava Pot, Daniel even tried finding an Egyptian restaurant in D.C., and had a hopeful yet disappointing lunch at a restaurant/hookah bar. She found the food didn’t have the unique taste Egyptian recipes offer.
“It is Arab food, but it is not Egyptian. So when I left, I was really sad,” Daniel says, describing a story my own Egyptian family had experienced many times over before we discovered Fava Pot. “Thankfully, Middle Eastern food tends to be delicious regardless, but finding Egyptian food in the D.C. area outside our home was once an exercise in frustration.
That very frustration led my own family to adopt Fava Pot as our home away from home (away from home), the next best thing to actually hopping on a flight and going back to Cairo to satisfy a koshary craving.
In fact, we were so thrilled to find authentic Egyptian food outside my mother’s kitchen that my brother even hosted his engagement party dinner at the Falls Church Fava Pot in 2020 — as official a guarantee of authenticity as you can get.
Although opening a business is always risky, Daniel faced the additional challenge of introducing an Egyptian menu to a diverse clientele that may have been unfamiliar with Egyptian versions of Middle Eastern food or Middle Eastern food altogether.
“When I started the food truck in 2013, no one in the area knew what koshary was,” Daniel expresses. “No one knew what ta’amiya was. That’s why I called it falafel, because everyone knows falafel, they don’t know ta’amiya. And I felt it would be much easier for me not to introduce everything with different names. Let people get used to our food first.”
Despite my family’s loyalty to Fava Pot, most of Daniel’s customers aren’t Egyptian.
“More than 80% of my clientele are non-Egyptian,” Daniel says. “That means Americans, residents and international people, they love this food.”
And for the first time, Fava Pot will also offer late-night hours on Fridays and Saturdays at the new location, bringing late-night revelers back to life with koshary bowls and falafel sandwiches.
Those familiar with the guilt of eating out or ordering takeout when they have food at home can at least take some comfort in the fact that Daniel didn’t leave her nonprofit work too far behind when she started Fava Pot. Proceeds go toward supporting several aid organizations, both in Egypt and the D.C. region, including Hands Along the Nile Development Services, Coptic Orphans, Nourish Now and Second Story.
“I started an Egyptian food truck because I believe in our cuisine,” Daniel says. “I believe in our culture.”
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