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Dina Fahim brings Egyptian food to Somerville’s Bow Market

Fahim runs Koshari Mama restaurant with her mother, Sahar Ahmed. They earned a following at various farmers’ markets and now have their own stall.

Dina Fahim (left) and mom Sahar Ahmed.Handout

Dina Fahim, 26, runs Egyptian restaurant Koshari Mama with her mother, Sahar Ahmed. They earned a following at various farmers’ markets and set up a stall at Bow Market in September. They’ll be there for a year; next, they hope to open a brick-and-mortar location. Koshari is a popular Egyptian street food of rice, lentils, pasta, chickpeas, deep-fried onions, and garlicky hot sauce.

What’s the first restaurant you remember eating at in Boston?

This one I’ll never forget. It was Jimmy’s Harborside. It’s not there anymore. The only location they have is in Arlington, Jimmy’s Steer House. I love that place! It’s my first memory because it was one of my grandfather’s favorite restaurants. One of his favorite meals was the crabmeat pie. I ordered it with their spinach rice pilaf and their side salad with blue cheese dressing. Up until today, that’s what I order if I go to Jimmy’s! I love it there.

What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here?


For me, it’s an easy question because I’ve always responded to it exactly the same. For me, it’s equity, and my mom feels the same exact way — meaning more opportunities for women, especially women of color. Better pay. Opportunities for everyone. It needs a lot of changing. It’s similar to equality, but it’s more than that. When you say equality, you’re saying everyone has equal rights. But does everyone have equal opportunities? Women and men today may have the same rights but not the same opportunity at the same job opening or the same pay.

How has the restaurant landscape changed since you started working in Boston?

I would definitely say it got a lot more diverse than the first time we came to Boston in 2005. I would say that [Boston] added a lot more foods from different backgrounds. At the same time, I think it needs to add more, but it’s one step at a time. I think we’re moving in the right direction, which is great.


What restaurants do you visit when you’re not working?

For fast-casual, I love Clover. Two of my all-time favorite restaurants that I go to when I’m not working are L’Andana, which is in Burlington. I absolutely love it there. And I do love going to Cuchi Cuchi in Cambridge. They make outstanding drinks, and I love their staff. They’re always super friendly and knowledgeable when you ask questions. And another place, it’s pretty new to me — but last week I went there three times! — is called 110 Grill. I’m usually not into chain restaurants in general because I feel like you lose something when you do that, and I like to support small businesses, but I love it there. They take care of their customers and focus on food sensitivity and allergies. They do it with true pride. Their mission is to have their customer know they’re safe eating there.

What’s your earliest food memory that made you think that you might work in restaurants someday?

I was just talking to my mom about this. I can almost smell it when we talk about it. We were in Cairo at the time, and I was five or six. My grandmother was alive, and I used to love watching her cook. She did it with such passion. She was making an Egyptian dessert called om ali, a phyllo dessert with cream and nuts and raisins. It’s so delicious. Once you smell it, you can never forget the smell. I’ll never forget my grandmother making it. Before you bake it, there’s always leftover sweat cream. She’d put it in an espresso mug and say, ‘Come here,’ in Arabic and give it to me. I said, ‘One day, I’m going to be a baker!’ I was four or five.


What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had?

I won’t list names to keep it professional, but I was in New York, a family trip with five of us. We were going to take a look at an oven we were interested in. We went to a restaurant with a well-known chef. He focuses on food techniques and preparation, but I felt like the customer service was what made me not enjoy the restaurant. They didn’t pay attention to us as a customer, or to food sensitivities and allergies, or that there are vegetarians, vegans, and sensitivities in general. In today’s world, with so many changes to people’s diets, I feel like they didn’t put thought into customers in all aspects before building the menu or hiring people who care about selling you the food. And it was extremely expensive!

How could the Boston food scene improve?

I feel like if we add more nutritious and affordable food, that’s what Boston is missing. Everything is so expensive in Massachusetts. Allowing the average person to come in without breaking their bank to get a nutritious and delicious meal, that’s what Boston is missing.


Describe your customers in three words.

I’d definitely say fun. They have an educated palate. And definitely rowdy.

What’s the most overdone food or drink trend right now?

This is easy: all-you-can-eat. That trend needs to slow down. People miss out on supporting local businesses and think about quantity rather than quality. It takes away from the dining experience.

What are you reading?

I just finished this book called “Mindset” by Carol S. Dweck. The reason I really enjoyed this book is because it teaches you about two different mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. It comes in handy with business to teach you about employees and how to train them. Anyone you have a conversation with, they either have a fixed or growth mindset. It teaches you how to take a fixed mindset and change it to a growth mindset — it makes a huge difference. A fixed mindset finds excuses and never wants to expand; growth is willing to learn and expand the knowledge you have. It goes a long way. If you’re not learning, you’re always stuck in neutral.

What’s one food you never want to eat again?

I just very recently cut out chicken and don’t think I can ever go back to it. I think I have scarred myself a bit. I started watching a documentary called “Rotten.” It made me learn about everything injected into our meat. I could not even fathom opening my mouth to eat chicken. I cut it out of my diet. It was really tough in the beginning, but after watching that documentary, it was worth it.


How’s your commute?

I’m living in Lowell, Mass. Every morning that I drive, I’d say it takes me about 40 minutes to get to work. I have no complaints about it.

What kind of restaurant is Boston missing?

It brings me to why we started ours. We’re missing Middle Eastern food. When we talk about it, people jump to Lebanese or Israeli cuisine, and there’s so much more to offer than just those two things.

What Boston restaurant do you miss the most?

Dandelion Green, for sure.

Who has been your most memorable customer?

I love this lady so much. Her name is Marci. I met her at a farmers’ market in Boston, and I swear to you, she brightened up your day just coming by. She is one of our customers that genuinely cares about our business. She cared to announce it to the world that she loved our food, but more importantly, I feel she cares about us as people. She had our number and had our card, and she’d message me just to see how I was and to see if I needed anything. She’s such a sweet woman and one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met in my life. One day, I can’t tell you how quickly this woman turned my day around. She came to my farmers’ market, didn’t know I was having a rough week, and gave me dahlia flowers. She brightened my day. I will never forget it.

If you were to eat your last meal in Boston, where would you go?

Considering it’s closing, I’d definitely say I’d want my last meal to be at Top of the Hub, because their desserts are outstanding. Last time I went, I had seafood linguine. It was delicious. I’d get it with their raspberry cheesecake.

Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.