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: 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?).
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.
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 www.kurdishglobe.net 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.