Nearly everywhere we went in much of Turkey and all of Kurdistan, the men outnumber the women about a hundred to one in all the restaurants, shops, and on the streets.
One night, we walked for miles and miles along the boulevard where our hotel was located, searching for a recommended restaurant, which we finally found, (on the second floor of an upscale “brand gallery” mall). Mildly depressed, but ravenously hungry, we had enjoyed our “15 minute walk” which had turned into over an hour of high paced run-walking through the main street of Suleimanyah.
The street scenes were lively, with small stall-type of restaurants with tables on the sidewalks in a jumble of unevenly paved surfaces. There were coloured lights strung everywhere, suspended across the large thoroughfares in celebration of Newroz. The entire area had a festive air, but we were too hungry to enjoy the ambiance, threading our way through the crowds as quickly as we could, we pressed on to our destination.
We finally found the restaurant, which to our disappointment turned out to be inside an elaborate, black glass building, and a mall that was named “Brand Mall Gallery”. We were famished by this time, so we weren’t deterred when it became apparent to us that the “wonderful” place, was sadly similar to many food courts at home, which mostly serve generic food and for the most part are to be avoided. This was an Italian restaurant, owned by a Kurdistani, who had spent time in Australia? “Nevermind”; we quickly agreed, ordered sodas and a green salad, and decided to share a lasagna. Who knew we’d end up in a pizza joint, inside a fancy mall, in Iraq, ordering lasagna from young men dressed in black, who were more interested in our music tastes than our appetite?
The waiters were solicitous, and brought us sparkling water, with beautiful chilled glasses, and served our sodas over ice. We had a great salad, blanketed with parmesan (?) cheese, and delicious lasagna. As per our expectations, the single serving could have easily fed three. We had come to realize that when Kurdistanis feed you, they make sure you don’t leave their tables hungry, whether in homes or restaurants.
As we were basking in the luxury of the neon surroundings and our delicious meal, a man entered the restaurant and began chatting with us; in English. I was taken aback to hear someone speaking English, and to us. Though I didn’t initially recognize him, I soon realized that he was the same man that had recommended the Erbil yoghurt at our hotel previously.
He and his friend sat down beside us and patiently explained that the unique flavour of Erbil yoghurt, that was so popular among people from the middle East, was indeed a burnt taste, as they intentionally scorched the milk prior to fermentation of the yoghurt. Voila! Another food mystery solved. Thank goodness for serendipity on this journey. I was getting curiously obsessive about the burnt yoghurt issue, and Jan was beginning to get impatient with my discussion of it. “How could Iraq (which I considered one of the “Yogurt-stans) be famous for their nasty tasting burnt yoghurt I continued to rant?” So that seemed to put an end to my fretting about as least one aspect of our trip.