Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sar-u-peh or Kala Pacha!


This blog entry may contain disturbing images for some audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.

Sar-u-peh, Kala Pacha, Bacha, or what ever you like to refer to it as, I just call it the Sheep's head. Here is the story, I went to Khanaqeen during the Jezhn (Eid) break with my family and I discovered more about my own people and culture. The one thing that really got my attention from the trip was in fact the Sheep's head.

The learning journey began on the first morning of Jezhn as I watched a group of women sitting together in the yard cleaning and cooking ‘Sar-u-peh’ after an animal was sacrificed. Not the perfect scene for a predominantly vegetarian person, but squeezing my eyes together, and winching my nose there was a beauty in watching the women laughing and talking in a circle in what appeared perfect group work activity. Each woman had her own duty in cleaning the head of the sheep, “This is the ears, that is the eye and oh the most delicious part is this, the tongue” said one of the woman with her sleeves pulled right back well beyond her elbow as she pointed with her blood stained hands.

Above: This is when she was telling me 'and this is the tongue'

As she continued pointed to the different parts trying to familiarize me with her family’s favourite meal all I could think of was how once upon a time (before he knew about cholesterol) this was in fact one of my fathers favorite meals. Another woman started teaching me cleaning tricks and techniques (for when I cook Sar-u-peh at home- as if.) I politely nodded my head and began brainstorming excuses of how I could skip dinner that evening.

Above: Burning the skin. No, sorry let me rephrase- above: This is the sterilization process.

Meanwhile at dinner time, everyone sat on the ground forming a perfect long rectangle, I watched from under my eyes how all the attention seemed to be on the sheep’s brain. As a guest it was typical that everyone insisted that I eat a large portion of it – their way of saying “you’re special”. After my courteous refusals the younger cousin on my right elbowed me whispering “just take it and pass it to me!”

When you sit with a large family having Sar-u-peh then etiquette doesn’t exist and there is no such thing as knife and fork. I listened to the sucking sounds of bones, gobbling of the eye balls, and crunchy sound of the ear cartilage (or was that a different cartilage?).

Above: Oh so clean! - yeah right -

As I kept quiet eating my salad and plane white rice I knew I was acting like an alien to all the others. But I witnessed quality family time. As I watched this large family make all sorts of jokes, laugh and talk during the long dinner it was better than any five-star open buffer dinner experience I have ever had in my life.

Above: The brain* (I don't think any additional comment is necessary)

I wish I could tell you how it tasted. I am sure it is nice but I will let that for you. Apparently there are various restaurants that sell Sar-u-peh in Erbil and I am told that you can even eat it at breakfast, and by the time the sun rises they are all sold out. So next time you come to Kurdistan, you know what to try!

This is a section from this weeks 'Memoirs' column in the Kurdish Globe, see titled 'The Sheep's Head'

*All pictures in this blog were taken by me, except this one. unfortunately I didn't want to look so much like an outsider to friends and relatives by taking out a camera taking pictures of what they thought was 'normal' food. So I resorted to Google for an image of a cooked sheep's brain.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The city that never stops growing!

My dearest most loyal reader…

I haven’t blogged for so long, it is not because nothing has happened, in fact the opposite is true, a lot has happened and I was just not in the right state of mind to sit and write. But here we are, yesterday President Talabani was announced as Iraq’s President for a second term and just around my house the first meeting was held in Erbil because of President Barzani’s initiative two days prior– all Iraqi leaders and politicians were in Erbil. Below is a picture from my balcony of the cars on the same road of Martyr Saad palace, where the meeting was held.

I realize I have more than one follower (yes!! Mum you’re not alone!) and that gives me enough encouragement to post some of the pictures I have taken in the past months or so and give a brief update about the city that never stops developing.

First of all J.A, a Lebanese friend who was a close follower of my blog from Dubai is now living in Erbil with her partner, I am glad the blog gave a ‘little’ insight to life in Kurdistan for her during when planning to move to Erbil. After her arrival we took a small journey through real Kurdish life and documented parts of our day.

J.A discovered the Persian Qurmay Sabzi for the first time- full of healthy greens.

Our day began in Shansheen restaurant around noon. Not the best food in Erbil (specially if you suffer from high cholesterol levels) but certainly a real taste of Kurdish culture, in particular with the seating area on the floor.

The pictures below are of Mala Hamid and his little treasure shop of old Kurdish antiques in Erbil’s Qaysari bazaar, of course for J.A and I it was like discovering a chest of diamonds, except these ones were more special. It is like a small museum of its own. Mala Hamid answered some of our questions and gave us a brief history of his little shop. If you happen to be in Erbil, pay him a visit and don’t hesitate to have a Pyalay Chay (tea) with him and take the effort to look through the small bits and pieces he has in his little corner store.

A 60-year-old anklet made by Jews that lived in Kurdistan, in Mala Hamid's antique shop

Mala hamid such a great man- loves what he does for a living**

The view from the top of the citadel, I remember going in the same place this time last year (actually have blog pics of it, if you like go into the archive) and it looked nothing like this. They are building the other side as well, this will look spectacular in the near future once completely finished. It already does!
And J.A manages to find little tiny Kurdish Klash,
Who said nature is not the best medicine? Hair straightening, skin clearing and even mind relaxation herbs and natural medicine in the Qaysari bazaar.

Sometimes I realize I feel like a stranger driving around Erbil. Once you live here you will realize if you don’t visit a particular area at least twice a week the next time you go there you won’t know it’s the same place. The city is literally a big construction site. I took these pictures just on the way from home to uncle’s place. I do have one fear and that is the quality of the buildings in the long run. With this city everything is unpredictable, you don’t know what crazy idea will hit the mind of any person tomorrow and a new project will begin construction work next week.

I saw this when driving past, they are a new set of shops near Ainkawa that I haven't had the chance to discover yet, but will give you an update of how it is once I make an effort to visit it
The new Noble Hotel just outside Ainkawa

Construction is ongoing on the Gulan Tower

I am aware that in the Bakhtiary area a large piece of land is dedicated now to a women’s swimming pool, sports facilities and beauty center. Not too far away the first and finest movie theatres is being created and the list just continues… what amazes me is the speed at which all this is taking place (and I will admit sometimes a concern emerges from this as well).

There are cities around the world that are always noisy; there are cities that never sleep, and cities that are always glittering with lights; there are cities for lovers and cities for shoppers. Around the world there are cities offering the finest cuisines and others the best limousines. My city offers affection and love, my city is the city that never stops growing and is somehow always smiling. Erbil has become a special part of me, even though I am not originally from here, though I feel it’s a city that can be home to anyone and any person and anytime- not many places in the world are like this.

Since the last time I blogged I have discovered a new leisure pursuit. Watching Oprah and cleaning Sawza (greens). Believe me there is an art to separating the greens. I have seen women sit together and talk (gossip!) while cleaning or separating the edible from the ummmm un-edible^? though I have never actually realized what they really do and how they separate them, but believe it or not it's fun. I tried, and I think from the picture it looks right.

All clear! All clean!
I mean there are three different groups and they all look different – right? The one on the right is the rubbish... is it supposed to be rubbish?
People this is how it's done*. You know I think you're just supposed to just take the yellow leaves out and wash it.

While the camera was in the kitchen I thought I would show you something else exclusive to Kurdistan. These are little touches that make this place so wonderful.

Pomegranates in a bowl on the kitchen table. Let me tell you: with a little bit of salt and a nice big spoon watching the speeches of Iraqi leaders could never be more fun and interesting!

This is Naana Teeri, (search for this in a cloth and large plastic bag on the fridge of Kurdish households). Basically it looks like dried bread which is really thin. It is almost magic how sprinkling this with a tiny bit of water makes it softer and fresher than any bread you can imagine. Only Kurdish women can make this the way it should be. Try it the next time you are here!! Trust me!!

I couldn’t skip these two pictures. I am so proud of my new KURIDSTAN handbag, though I am really upset that it is often so difficult to find Kurdish souvenirs around the city, which is also rather surprising. This bag came from Naza Mall and if you think its cute then look at the picture under it.
The perfect handbag!

I hadn’t blogged as I was busy at home as well as my commitments outside. But one of the main reasons was this little angel here. The newest edition to the Mandalawi family– Baby Hunar! Who came to visit us for a while.

*Thanks to M.M. for this picture. And yes I did clean all those greens and washed them too – and I must add to that ate them as well.

** This one was taken by J.A. didn't need any begging - Zor Supas!

All other pictures in this blog entry was taken by me.