22 The NaTioNal CuliNary review • JaNuary 2018
ethnic cuisine the kurdish embrace
INVITE YOUR GUESTS TO THE TABLE WITH
THIS FRIENDLIEST OF CUISINES.
BY ETHEL HAMMER
THE KURDISH EMBRACE
I found the Kurds strong, fearless and generous,” says Naomi Duguid, author of Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran and Kurdistan (Artisan, 2016),
the 2017 James Beard Foundation’s award-winning best international cookbook, which traces
longtime Persian influence on the food of these countries dating back to Darius the Great, third
king of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. “The Kurds I met were wonderfully welcoming. And with
all their hardships, their ability to laugh has not been eradicated.”
One of the largest ethnic groups without a state, the Kurds dream of Kurdistan. Again and again
they have been persecuted, betrayed and given false promises of a homeland. “The Kurdish people
stopped ISIS, and now in Iraq they are alone,” says Mehmet Yavuz, chef/co-owner of Chicago’s
The Gundis Kurdish Kitchen. “I wish the Iraqi Kurds could get more support.”
But as Yavuz, a Kurd from Turkey, expresses fierce solidarity with fellow Kurds, his food
betrays no bitterness, only warmth, satisfying tastes, tradition and creativity.
A CUISINE TRANSCENDS STRIFE
Straddling Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, Kurdistan “is often referred to as one of those ‘Alice
in Wonderland’-type countries that do not officially exist,” according to Chiman Zebari, author of
My Life, My Food, My Kurdistan (Xlibris, 2015), a Kurdish American who married into a powerful
political family from Iraq. “However, it does, in fact, exist, and lies in the heart of the Middle East,
contrary to the denial of its neighboring countries.”
Religiously tolerant, most Kurds are Muslim, Zebari says, but some follow Zoroastrianism
and others are Jewish, Christian, Yezidi and Kaka'i. When Kurds cried out for a homeland, the
Iraqi government started killing and imprisoning dissidents, forcing her father, a member of the
Peshmerga, to flee to Iran. The family lived in tents in a refugee camp on the Iraqi/Iranian border.
They subsequently received asylum in Iran, moving to Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1970s.