Sunday, January 15, 2006


"You can travel fifty thousand miles in America without once tasting a piece of good bread."
Henry Miller, American writer (1891-1980)

Sometimes, my mind conjures memories of Kurdistan that are extremely vivid. This happens to me, most of the time, as a result of listening to Kurdish music, especially when, having lost track of my thoughts, I am suddenly reminded of particular people or places, and, in those moments, I am overwhelmed by the feel of the memory. I have read that the sense of smell is one that strongly evokes memories in the human mind, but for me, the music does this more often than anything else.

It happens at other times too. Yesterday, upon returning from an overnight trip, I had to stop for a few groceries. As I was going around the store, collecting the items I needed, the thought occured to me to examine the selection of breads. I hoped that maybe there would be something new, something that would be similar to the bread of Kurdistan. Nothing. The same things.

I looked at the pide. The makers of the pide may do their best, but, as I look at the packages, I already know that this pide more resembles cardboard than anything else. I remember the bread I would get from one of the bakeries in Ainkawa. I remember the size, shape, color, texture, smell, taste of that bread, and I pass over the imitation pide before me.

I see packages of flatbread. It's supposed to be an Armenian-style bread, but my skepticism tells me there is probably nothing like this in Armenia because I know there is nothing like this in Kurdistan. It is rectangular and thin with no texture and no taste. I remember the village nan of Kurdistan and, even as I reach to touch the package in the hope that, by some miracle, this bread will feel like village nan, I am again disappointed. It's not such a great disappointment because I know that there are no such things as miracles, but it is disappointment nonetheless.

No pide. No village nan. Nothing.

I remember the grilled bread at one of my favorite places to eat in Amed. The bread is flat, baked in long pieces, and cut into squares for serving. In this restaurant, the squares of bread are brushed with spicy oil, lightly grilled and brought to the table cut in little strips and placed in a basket as an offering to appease hunger until the kebabs or grilled chicken arrives. It is warm, crispy, spicy and delicious.

I remember the village nan served with a lunch prepared by a Berwarî tribeswoman, as well as the entire meal. Lamb kebabs, chicken and rice, two kinds of soup, salad, the nan, gallons of hot, sweet tea after, served in the room of her house reserved for receiving guests, with carpets stretching from wall to wall and cushions lining the walls. A pair of birds flit in and out of the room, chirping in perplexity because they seem to have lost their way. I am happy when she comes in to sit with us, and to chat and joke and laugh with us as we drink tea. I am happy that she has not only honored us with her food, but also with her presence.

In reality, there is nothing unusual about her meal; it is typically Kurdish. But she is an artist with food, and her home is the epitome of that indescribable ambience created by the entire culture of Kurdish hospitality. Thus the entire visit is as delicious as it is unforgettable.

I remember all the roadside restaurants in Kurdistan where nan is served with every meal. I remember my friend's sister kissing the piece of nan she had dropped on the floor as she picked up the remains of a meal. I wonder, if I dropped a piece of this packaged bread on the floor, would it be worthy of a kiss?

This is why, in the West, I rarely eat bread.


Murat Altinbasak said...

Reading this entry, I can't help but be reminded of the book Kite Runner, which I just completed recently. Highly recommended. And thanks for a great post my friend. Maybe one day we'll break nan together. Where my family is from- Bursa, there is a bakery every 100 yards it seems. Traveling there nearly every year my whole life I also have vivid childhood memories of being sent by my betters to fetch a loaf of bread, and eating 1/2 of it by the time I made it home. No worries, you go and get another one- for about 15-20 cents US.

Philip said...

Mizgin, you rat, here it is 4:00, I haven't had lunch, and you write all this stuff about those delicious breads...Now my hunger has turned to faintness and dizziness...There IS a Carrabba's near here, they have a lovely spicy dipping sauce for their Italian bread, mmmmmmmm...

But you haven't lived till your bus stops for a meal break in rural Africa, and the roadside fresh meal you get is chunks of grilled chou-chou (porcupine) meat...speared on its own quills! (talk about adding insult to injury!)

Philip said...

BTW, I don't think it is fair to say there is no good bread in America, there are THOUSANDS of nice little bakeries and restaurants of every conceivable cuisine where fresh "homeland-style" bread is baked thru the day. I used to get great lavash in Watertown, Mass.

Mizgîn said...

Thanks, Murat. I decided not to describe my constant search for anything that might remotely resemble Kurdish cheese, especially Wan cheese, kaymax or mast. . . at least not right now. Nor Kurdish honey.

Well, Philip, I know that you know that it takes one rat to tell another. Carrabba's doesn't even tempt me. I doubt that I can find anything that resembles nan here. All the fashionable European-style bakeries with all their varieties of bread don't count, in my mind, because those breads are totally different from nan. They are loaves and nan is not. As for the other bakeries, I haven't found any yet that have anything close to nan.

Let me guess, porcupine tastes like chicken, right?

Philip said...

Mizgin, even here in cowboy Florida we have nice Indian restaurants that serve up a delicious nan! [tho it is not as cheap as ordinary bread, of course).

Chou-chou tastes more like savory sirloin tips! I recommend it highly!