What is “Kurdish” cuisine, you may ask? Good question, and I’m still working that out. I happen to be in Iraqi Kurdistan for a few weeks, on an excavation. Mostly I’ve eaten at home, at our dig house, cooked by our 18yr old chef/helper. There, chicken has been abundant and I’ve had it minced, whole, hammered (as a nice “schnitzel”!), fried, and boiled. Rice is common at every meal, and potatoes are frequently in the form of chips/fries. Soups and stews are frequent, usually made with bulghur or lentils. As for seasonings, sumac, turmeric, and garlic are plentiful.
What about restaurants? There is a ton of street food, especially falafel, shawarma, and what seems to be a local, Kurdish sandwich with stewed meat and a layer of (refried?) lentils. Many places serve kebab – and from the cooking smells in the neighborhood, it would seem that most families have it at home, too. Fish restaurants are also common. The fish comes wild from Lake Dukan, and it is also farmed somewhere nearby. The fish restaurants are clearly visible by a roaring fire at their entrance.
I’ve now been to 2 restaurants that advertise themselves as “Kurdish”: Kurdistan Restaurant in Qaladze and Assur Restaurant in Dokan. The experience at each was pretty similar.
Once seated, a waiter with a rolling cart brings out plates of appetizers. While these differ slightly restaurant to restaurant – and even plate to plate – they always include salad-y items such as coleslaw, pickled cucumbers, olives, and shredded beets. A soup is also brought out. At both restaurants, this was a bulghur in stew-y broth – Kurdistan Restaurant’s had a carrot base, while Assur’s was tomato-based.
Now for the main course. Each restaurant had the same entrees offered. As translated to me, these were “Kebab”, “Meat”, “Chicken”, and “Rice”. The kebab is typically lamb or beer, and the “meat” is generally goat’s meat. Kebab comes served with a raw onion, lemon, and piles of fresh, flat bread. They were standard, grilled, ground meat on sticks. Those from Assur Restaurant were absolutely superb. They had enough fat left in them to get a crunchy crust from the fire. The chicken was fairly plain, though well-roasted with a crispy skin. “Meat” was excellent. I had it at Kurdistan restaurant, where it consisted of goat meat from (and with) a lumbar vertebra. The stewed meat was in a mild broth that certainly had turmeric, but also an unidentified, lighty-aromatic spice. It was not too greasy, and the meat was very, very tender.
Chicken and meat come with a big plate of rice and some varying, local additions. Always, at least one of these sides is a bowl of beans in a tomato-based sauce. At Kurdistan Restaurant, we were served 2 types of bean sauce, one with a richer, darker tomato sauce that was very flavorful. Assur served its beans – as well as a bowl of okra – in a light, slightly sweet, tomato sauce. What Assur also had, but that Kurdistan did not, was my favorite dish of all: goat-bone broth. It was salty and rich from the bone marrow and oh-so-very good. It was meant as a “sauce” for dipping the chicken, but was fantastic just as soup.