Zoo's Kitchen

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We are so lucky to have spoken with the wonderful and talented Arazoo Halgurd of Zoo’s Kitchen of Nashville, TN. Arazoo began her Kurdish catering business after she and her family arrived in the United States a few years ago from Kurdistan. Arazoo and her family are strong pillars in the immigrant community as you’ll see from her interview.

Where are you from?

I was born as a refugee in Iran, but grew up in the town of Rawanduz in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

How did you learn to cook in your home country? Was cooking a big part of your family tradition?

I started cooking since I was 11 years old. After my mom passed away and I had to cook for and take care of my family of 7, which was a very hard part of my life. I started learning from my father at the time. Cooking and large feasts are a big part of our family tradition we would usually have a lot of people over at our or my grandparent’s house, it was very communal. We would even cook for the Kurdish revolutionary Peshmargas in the surrounding mountains because a lot of them were our brothers, cousins, and family members, it was all very secretive of course. At these gatherings I would cook with the older women in our extended family and learn the intricate recipes, techniques, and skills. Ever since then I have been cooking at large family gatherings and at weddings of family members back home.

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What are some traditional Kurdish foods you like to make?

Two dishes that are my favorite and my family is famous for are Dolma and Kifta. Dolma is different kinds of vegetables carved out and stuffed with rice that’s been marinated, it can also be prepared with beef/chicken or just vegetarian. And kifta is a kind of dumpling, that is filled with ground beef and boiled in different flavored soups, such as beetroot, yoghurt, or chickpea.

What makes Kurdish food special? Are there certain spices you like to use?

Kurdish cuisine is very regional. Different regions of Kurdistan have different takes and spins on these recipes. In general garlic, onions, sumac, pomegranate molasses, and yoghurt are used extensively, my hometown is known for its use of sumac and pomegranate molasses which gives an acidic and spicy flavor to the meals, but where my husband is from which is in the plains region, don’t like the acidic and spicy taste. Leafy greens are also a staple in Kurdish cuisine, that is eaten alongside the main meal, kind of similar to American “side items”. Leafy greens such as parsley, garlic chives.

Your catering business. What do you enjoy about it?

I enjoy being a business owner, as someone who is learning English it is very hard for me to find employment. With my business I can take on challenges at my own pace and grow as a result of it. I love getting all the feedback and reactions from people eating Kurdish food for the first time.

I love getting all the feedback and reactions from people eating Kurdish food for the first time.

Does cooking help you feel connected to home?

Yes, cooking helps me feel connected to home. It is a very important reminder of my roots and my home. Unfortunately I can’t get a lot of my traditional produce, spices, and food items here in the US. It’s a beautiful part of me and my culture, and is one of my only ways of expressing myself in a place where I can’t communicate verbally, it makes me feel connected with the rest of the society.

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What is one thing about Kurdistan that you'd like people to know?

Hospitality is one of the biggest parts of Kurdish culture, issues like homelessness and hunger are very rare because no one would allow their neighbor or relative to end up in such a situation. As a traveler if you end up in a Kurdish town or village and you strike up conversation with someone, you’ll most likely be invited to their home for lunch/dinner and be offered accommodation without any discrimination.

If people wanted to hire you to cook for their events, how would they do that?

To hire me as a cook please send your request to Zooskitchen00@gmail.com or text 615-606-4914. Follow Zoo’s Kitchen on instagram at @Zooskitchen

Yassin's Falafel House

Amanda Friedman  for Reader’s Digest    Yassin Terou with his wife, Jamileh Al Saghir, and daughters Shaam (left) and Judy

Amanda Friedman for Reader’s Digest

Yassin Terou with his wife, Jamileh Al Saghir, and daughters Shaam (left) and Judy

Just down the road from Nashville in Knoxville, TN is an authentic Mediterranean restaurant serving homemade falafel called Yassin’s Falafel House. What makes this place even more special is that it was voted “Nicest Place in America” by Reader’s Digest.

Yassin Terou, a refugee from Syria who came to Knoxville in 2011 and has become a beloved local celebrity. It’s easy to understand why. The moment you step into his Falafel House, a sign welcoming people of all religions, faiths, sexes and beyond hangs proudly on the wall. In Yassin’s own words, “When you break bread, you break hate.”

Read more from the Reader’s Digest interview.