Dolma or Yaprax

A universally known and loved food in our area is dolma (also known as yaprax). It involves a mixture of uncooked rice, minced meat (often lamb), and spices stuffed into a variety of veggies (zucchini, green peppers, onions, eggplant, tomatoes, and more) or grape leaves. Then it is artfully crammed into a pot and boiled until the rice is cooked.

The best part is that when everything is cooked the pot is inverted onto a serving tray. This is always the most delicate and dramatic part, usually taking two people. If everything and been stacked and stuffed correctly you end up with a magical tower of delicious.


The second most sought after dish is biryani. It’s rice with blanched almonds, vermicelli, chicken or lamb, and a fragrant mix of spices that is almost unidentifiable and endlessly intriguing.


Okay so pizza is pretty universal, but we love it! Even if it’s not considered a meal, just a snack. Everyone needs a little pizza. In Kurdistan it is often served with packets of ketchup and/or mayonnaise because they don’t always cook it with much or any sauce.

Mast Au

This is a salty sour yogurt drink. Some of our teammates love it, some can’t stand it. The locals love, love, love it. It’s at every meal, always offered. And they like to watch the foreigners faces as they try it for the first time. Entertaining for sure.


One of the best parts of international travel is that you get to eat fruit in its native soil. We love fresh pomegranates, kumquats, green plums, and other fruits. We especially love sharing them over tea with our neighbors and friends. Any gathering always involves fruit! And before you can leave a Kurdish home you must have some fruit.

Goat Cheese

This is one of the few foods that many on our team haven’t tried. The locals don’t recommend it. Goat’s milk is wrapped in goat skin and buried in the ground for a few months. The cheese ferments, moldy like bleu cheese. It’s sold in the bazaar and you can get samples, but we’ve always been told that it will make me sick.


No, debates are not a type of food. We just have a food story!

One of the most passionate debates that was ever had in class was over food. We were discussing the diet of ancient Romans and I asked about their favorite foods. A deep discussion on the proper way to make dolma, masta au, and cheese erupted unexpectedly. Followed by whose mother makes the best fill-in-the-blank. I was a little worried I’d have to break up a fist fight. Those kids loved their food!

The Cake is a Lie

Being as how most of the natives prefer sour things to sweet it can be a little difficult to find a delicious cake. Most cakes are beautiful on the outside, with luxurious looking decorations, but are dry and tasteless once you get into them. Probably partly because they don’t use butter. I think there’s a like lesson in that.


CO-LAY-CHA, we know how to say it but not how to spell it. It come in different forms (and levels of yumminess) but is usually filled with either date or walnut and sometimes both. It could be a swirl like a mini-cinnamon roll or a pillow like a tiny ravioli. They are best enjoyed hot out of the oven over tea with your neighbor.