Amir Edward stands in the corner of his Reseda garage, casually tossing an ever-widening layer of dough. Oiled and stretched, the light golden dough is at its peak pliability when Edward’s hand shows through faintly from the other side. The bearded, bespectacled Edward returns the sheet delicately to a long metal kitchen prep table to assemble what will, in moments, become one of the best bites of food available in the San Fernando Valley. With each stretch, the Cairo-born Edward forms the soon-to-be crispy, flaky, cheesy, meaty Egyptian street snack known as feteer — despite the care required and the decadence it delivers, it isn’t even his signature menu item.
Edward uses his family’s garage to operate the Original Hawowshi, an underground pop-up that offers Egyptian street foods to greater Los Angeles. His namesake dish, the one that got him started on this pandemic journey, is a round pocket of minced meat and vegetables pressed into a pita-like bread (called aish baladi) that’s best when griddled and dipped in Edward’s own tahini. This Cairo street food is called hawawshi, with an ‘a’ — Edward insists playfully that he’s the one giving the dish that “wow” factor, hence the slight spelling change for his pop-up.
“I wanted to start something during the pandemic,” says Edward, 23, who previously spent time in culinary school before COVID put the program on pause. “I had a lot of time on my hands to try different recipes, but I had never really cooked much Egyptian food.” It seems odd at first, for someone who now earns a living running an Egyptian street food pop-up in the Valley, but Edward swears he’s got a perfectly reasonable explanation: “Why would I cook? My grandmother lives with us, and she’s always cooking amazing Egyptian food.”
What Edward’s elder was not cooking were street snacks, the everyday on-the-go dishes like hawawshi that he had grown up eating and still longed for between visits back to Cairo. The stuffed, transportable hawawshi is actually a relatively recent invention, dating to a butcher from the early ‘70s who operated out of Cairo’s Souk Al Tawfik market, but it has proliferated widely across the country. “I really missed it,” says Edward. “So me being a cook and knowing how to get the ingredients, I thought that I could maybe make it happen.”
Edward was let go from his job at a nearby Cheesecake Factory at the outset of the pandemic, so he spent weeks dialing in ingredients and bread recipes until he was ready to offer his hawawshi and feteer to a wider audience. He started small in the summer of 2020, dropping off trays to friends and at local Egyptian religious centers. “I had no intention of blowing up,” he says of those early days. “I was just trying to get Egyptians nostalgic when they ate my food. That’s all that I wanted.”
Word grew quickly within the Egyptian-American community (a group some 20,000 people strong that spreads from the Valley through Long Beach and down into Orange County) that Edward was selling nostalgia by the piece, and soon enough he had a ready stable of clients for his weekly cooks. He’s been written about in Los Angeles Magazine and was featured on Spectrum News, though most weeks his customers still come from his Cairo connections. Now, he tries to keep a semi-regular schedule outside Salam Lounge in Koreatown, where other young Arab kids go to smoke hookah and hang out. He’s even built up a roster of Egyptian Uber and cab drivers who hover around LAX a few nights a week, trading stories and chatting in an empty parking lot between rides. Edward will routinely show up to hand out hawawshi and feteer, sometimes 40 orders at a time, because he loves to watch his food bring the crowd back to a personal, familiar place.
While the hawawshi has certainly won the hearts and minds of homesick Egyptians, it is Edward’s feteer that pops the most on Instagram. An exceedingly thin sheet of dough is filled with combinations of cheese, olives, meat, and peppers, then wrapped and crimped into a loose rectangle. The package is fired off in Edward’s portable gas oven, then cut into smallish squares, each piece a mix of salty, crispy, and rich. The cheese pulls away in long strands, while the blackened edges give it the right amount of smoke and char. It’s an easy dish to devour and a mesmerizing one to watch being built from an ad hoc garage restaurant in the middle of the Valley.
In February 2022, Edward returned home to Cairo once more to see family, making sure to tack on some street-level research while there. He found the trip invigorating and inspiring, and hopes to use what he saw to take the Original Hawowshi to new levels. “In Egypt, street food is really popping off right now,” he says. “It’s all about the culture and the country. People will sell kebabs, burgers, fried chicken, hawawshi, anything.”
Back in LA, Edward plans to begin a series of roving pop-up nights across the Valley and down into the greater Los Angeles basin, where he can introduce even more Angelenos to the power of Egyptian street food. And who knows, with the right twirl of dough for the right customer on the right night, he might end up in someplace like Smorgasburg, surrounded by other young operators who started in the underground. For now, he’s still on the streets and in the Reseda garage, cooking the kind of food that comforts him and his community. “To me, street food is where it’s at,” he says. “Not just here, all over the world.”
The Original Hawowshi regularly takes pre-orders and offers timed pop-ups from a private residence in Reseda. Follow on Instagram for future public pop-up dates.