Marrow Vine Leaves and Pistachio Cream Pancakes in Northern Iraq

In this part of the world, restaurants tend to sling the same grub (kebab, mezze, biryani, baklava) — and what sets one place apart from another is the quality of ingredients and, when I get lucky, the existence of dishes I’ve never seen before. Green Jews Mallow in Egypt. Hot cheesy hummus in Turkey. And at Al Safadi, a Lebanese restaurant in Northern Iraq, a dish they describe as Marrow Vine Leaves.


For research & comparison’s sake, among our mezze order we got the traditional vine leaves as well – an excellent version of the standard rice-stuffed grape leaves. But the daily special, simply described as “marrow leaves”, was a heaping bowl full of rice & meat stuffed into a variety of different casings including intestine (resembling sausages but with the earthy funk of offal) and courgette (zucchini, to my American readers). They were… interesting. Not sure they’re a must-order the next time around.


The eggplant dip (moutabal) and hummus with lamb were smooth, sesame-laden tahini bombs, and the fattoush and tabouleh salads were bright with fresh mint and lemon. The front page of the menu here says “Only Al Safadi can make a plate of fresh vegetables almost smile so that your appetite grows.” They aren’t kidding.


Small sausages known as soujuk were toothsome and spicy, and the felafel, normally a snooze-fest, were shaped into adorable little donuts, scattered with sesame seeds.


After a parade of small dishes, each one scraped clean by the end, we ordered a platter of lamb chops, which were scooped up before I could grab one (cough, cough – don’t they KNOW I have a blog to write?!!?) and a great version of shwarma called shwarma intaki – a quesadilla-like dish of spit-roasted meat, spicy tomato sauce, onions and herbs grilled between triangles of flatbread. Add a dollop of sour cream and some salsa and you could be in Mexico.


At the end of the meal I asked the waiter to bring us their best dessert, which turned out to be another first for me: katayef bel kashta, small cream-filled pancakes topped with pistachio crumbs and drizzled in rosewater syrup. They were practically too cute to eat.


But that’s never stopped me before. And it didn’t here.

Al Safadi Restaurant
100th street, Erbil, Kurdistan – Iraq
tel:+964 7505989898

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