Food and fellowship around food is a huge part of Kurdish culture

The evening meal generally begins right after the sunset call to prayer; that means before 5pm in the dead of winter, and as late as 7:30pm in the heat of the summer. Meals are eaten while sitting on the floor around a plastic ‘sifra1, cut small for a small gathering or cut long to include many guests. Rice is a staple to the meal, as well as some sort of tomato-based stew. Salads, fresh bread, olives, pickled vegetables, and yogurt drinks are a common addition as well. Meat is often reserved for special occasions or guests. Spices are mild and used sparingly; food may be surprisingly salty and oily for some unused to Kurdish cooking.

A local Kurdish family setting up the sifra1 for an evening meal.

As a guest, expect to be scolded many times for not eating enough; your bowl will likely be re-filled even if you’ve already refused extra. After everyone has eaten his or her fill and the dishes and scraps have been whisked away, hot black tea, often very sweet, comes next. At the end of the evening, sharing seasonal fruits will be the parting activity before everyone warmly and enthusiastically parts ways.

1A sifra is a reusable oilcloth or disposable plastic tablecloth that is usually laid out on the ground.

Different dishes and accessories you will encounter in Kurdistan

Brinj u Shla


Black tea (cha) is an essential part of Kurdish culture. You will find it served strong, piping hot, and loaded with sugar.

Photo Credit: Ben Chasnov

Tea is often enjoyed many times throughout the day. After meals, at late morning and early afternoon “cha breaks,” and even during late-night visits, are great times to imbibe this sweet brew.

Yaprax or Dolma

Perhaps one of the most common dishes for special occasions, conjuring up feelings of celebration and togetherness, this dish can take hours of preparation. If prepared with friends or family, it’s a wonderful opportunity for lively chatter and sharing life.

Photo Credit: Cheryl


Kifta is a special, filling meal that consists of large meat-filled dough balls, cooked to perfection in a savory soup.


Shifta are tasty meat patties made from ground beef, fried up and often eaten inside a sandwich.

Photo Credit: Real Hedi

Parsley, onion, tomato paste, curry powder, ground cumin, and a bit of flour are mixed thoroughly in with the ground beef, patted out by hand to form something akin to an elongated, thin burger patty, and then shallow fried in oil. If eaten in a sandwich, fresh greens and vegetables, and often some sort of sauce like ketchup, dress it up to make it a special snack, picnic food, or meal by itself.