Friday, April 17, 2009


I reached Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, around 10 AM today. The weather was overcast, which is apparently totally out of season, and it started raining soon after. I was told there has been very little rain or snow this year, and that the seasons are changing.

I am here to look at the planning of the sustainable agriculture component of the Erbil Green belt, which is a 2 km wide ring circling the city, 12 km from the center. The city on a loess plain is at the foot of a mountainous area. It is framed to the North by the Great Zeb river and to the South East by the Small Zeb river. Both rivers meet south of the city and feed into the Tigris.

I had a meeting with a couple of people who work in the city and asked them about food. This is what I learned:

What they eat:

Breakfast: Yoghurt and cheeses, bread, eggs. Yoghurt and cheeses can be made from either cow or sheep milk.

Lunch: Rice and meat based, with stews or soups. Salad. Sometimes fruits. Meat is most often sheep, followed by beef. There are goats in the mountains but their meat is not appreciated. Poultry is often used. Once a week or so burghul replaces rice.

Dinner: Can be left overs from the lunch or like the breakfast.

Bread accompanies all meals. There are at least 6 kinds of breads:
1. Baladi, made in the tannour with local wheat flour.
2. K0leray baroun (local wheat flour)
3. Nani Hawrami (local wheat flour)
4. Samoun which is like small baguettes and is made with imported flour either on stone (hajari) or "automatic".
5. Ruqaq or Nani Tiri, which is like the lebanese marquq and is made from local wheat flour
6. `Aysh which is like Arabic bread (pitta) and is made with imported flour.

I will try to taste them all.

I also asked about cheeses and was told of the while baladi cheese, and of the jaji cheese which is like the darfieh cheese, but is matured in a lambskin skin instead of goat skin, and to which a special herb added for flavour. There is also the Leur, another white cheese.

I also asked about the origin of food:

Bread wheat: A lot is imported but people prefer the local wheat to make bread and burghul. But local sources do not appear to be sufficient.
Dairy: Can be imported from Turkey, Syria or Iran, but is also produced locally although quantities are insufficient. People might prefer the local or the imported depending on their taste and on their concern for hygiene. The people i talked to said that people believe Turkish products are better "controlled" for sanitary quality. Local products are made in small scale back kitchen factories.
Meat: Can be imported from Syria, Turkey or Iran or local. Local is preferred but insufficient.
Fruits and vegetable: as above.

Basically people prefer local sources but there are not enough of them.

People purchase food from 3 sources: the neighborhood souks, shops, or from itenerant vendors who sell fruits and vegs on pushcarts. There is a central wholesale food market called I think "gumruk" or al `alwa.

We discussed foods and recipes and I was told that one very traditional food is stuffed sheep tripes and intestines and hooves and brains and heads and tongue. I thing the name is Patcha, but I'll check again. Men wake up at 5 AM, go to the hamam till 6 and then go for a Patcha breakfast before setting off for work. I decided to try it, so we went to a restaurant that makes it. It was good. A bit heavy, but good.

On the field trip to visit the area of the Green Belt, I saw lots of wheat that had remained dwarf because of the lack of rain. I met Delshad, a farmer in his 40's from a tiny village called Bar `oshter and asked him about farming around Erbil. He plants 65 dunums, but in Kurdistan a dunum is 2,500m2 (in Lebanon it is 1,000m2). He also has 500 heads of sheep and a large poultry (broiler) production unit that looked artisanal. He complained about the absence of rain and told me about his rotation of wheat or barley then fallow then chickpea. He sells the ton of wheat to the government for $500. He gets the sheep feed from the government and sells the milk (manual milking) in the surrounding villages and the meet at the central Erbil food market. He buys the poultry feed and has a new generation every 2 months. He seemed content and showed me with prode his tractor that cost $50,000. He also plants vegetables which he irrigates from an artesian well by furrow irrigation. I couldn't learn more because he spoke very little Arabic and we had to communicate through the driver.

On the way I saw more dwarfed wheat and very few fruit trees. The few small orchards I saw looked like they were apricots.


sarah said...

Did you try the "fume" version of laban from Erbil?
It is quite an interesting taste

Rami Zurayk said...

I loved it. Had it today at Kebab Yasseen in the old souk with the greaseast kebab in the world.