As consumers continue to seek globally inspired menus, awareness of Kurdish cuisine shows signs of growth.
Scope of Terminology
Among all menus, the Kurdish dishes that show up the most in Chicago-based Datassential’s database (dolma, sumac and rosewater) also appear at Greek and other Mediterranean or Middle Eastern restaurants.
One might argue the lack of familiarity with Kurdish cuisine could entice those seeking menu exploration.
Borek: 4% of those surveyed know it and 5% have tried it
Dolma: 18% of those surveyed know it and 10% have tried it
Kurdish coffee: 24% of those surveyed know it and 9% have tried it
Source: Datassential Nov. 4, 2022, FLAVOR report
Concept Spotlight: Café Gulistan
Since Café Gulistan opened in 1995, the 120-seat Kurdish restaurant’s clientele has grown 6 or 7 times over, says owner Ibrahim Parlak. Its single location in Harbert, Mich., attracts a diverse demographic.
“Kurdish dishes are the foods of many nations, so it’s hard to put a finger on what makes it distinctive,” Parlak says. “All of us do similar cooking but may chop meat and veggies differently. It’s mainly how herbs and spices are used that set dishes apart.”
While Indian cuisine often centers on cumin, and thyme serves as a staple in Persian meals, Kurdish dishes balance both. “We’re also one of the only restaurants with gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and lactose-free dishes,” Parlak says. “As a result, our cuisine can accommodate dietary restrictions more than any other type of restaurant.”
The cafe’s dishes incorporate fresh produce from local farmers, including tomatoes, eggplant and spinach, in addition to parsley, mint and herbs like basil, thyme, curry, cumin, dill and sumac. Beverages include a Kurdish latte made with Turkish coffee and milk, along with black tea with sage. The restaurant often serves coffee and tea with baklava, a Greek dessert.
Café Gulistan’s back of the house includes salad, frying, grilling and saute stations. “Typically, Kurdish food is heavy on baking, but we don’t do much of this due to limited space; we mainly grill and saute,” Parlak says. “Frying is for vegetarian dishes like falafel, but we have no breading for meats. We grill meats and saute and roast vegetables.”
Additional freezer space and another oven were added recently. “We purchase equipment each year,” Parlak says. “We are in the process of replacing our dishmachine and ice maker.”
Traditional Kurdish Cuisine:
Berbesêl: soup made with boiled meat, yogurt, egg, onion and spices
Birinc: Kurdish rice with red cabbage
Biryani: combination of rice, legumes, meat and gravy
Börek: savory pastry made with flaky yufka dough encasing spinach and feta
Dolma: grape leaves stuffed with ground beef, rice and herbs
Kasseri: cheese made from sheep milk, typically served fried like saganaki
Kalāneh: Kurdish scallion bread with brown butter
Kutilk: dumplings filled with minced beef or veal
Lahmacun: cheeseless pizza topped with ground beef, onion, tomato and green pepper with spices