Babani’s Kurdish Restaurant in St. Paul makes it very clear that it is the first Kurdish restaurant in the United States. Indeed, the first page of a Web search for “Kurdish restaurant” and any other major American city gives you results only for Babani’s. Don’t bother clicking over to the second page — just go to Babani’s.
When you get there, you’ll find that Kurdish food shares many elements with other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. Among the chickpeas, lentils, and tabouli is a Kurdish dumpling called kubay, a cousin of kibbeh, served in Lebanon as a mixed lamb and wheat patty or in Brazil (via the Levantine diaspora) as a cheese dumpling. The Kurdish version contains spiced ground beef available two ways: kubay sawar and kubay brinj.
The kubay sawar ($12.50 or $8.50 for lunch) arrived as UFO-shaped wheat dumplings (sometimes they are half-moon shaped). Fried lightly, they had a nutty, whole-grain taste but were a little tough around the edges where the dough was pressed together. The beef was lean and mildly spiced, and altogether, it was a little dense, as if the dough could stand some leavening.
The kubay brinj ($12.50 or $8.50 for lunch) are rocket shaped and made of rice dough. They were fried to a perfect golden brown crisp, and remained light and doughy on the inside. While kubay sawar is similar to other dumplings, kubay brinj adds a new angle to the international dumpling discussion.
For lunch they come two on a plate, centered between a pile of basmati rice, holding back a dollop of delicious, parsley-flecked, yellow lentil soup. On the other side of the plate is your choice of salad. Try what they call Tanyata — half tabouli and half jaajic, cucumber, garlic, and dill in yogurt ($4.25 for a small or $5 for a large if ordered as a side). The tabouli was excellent. It had an earthy, herbal flavor with a whiff of lemon. The jaajic was creamy and tasted mildly of garlic and richly of dill, perfect for dressing the otherwise dry kubay sawar.
From the portraits on the walls to the awkward family introduction on the menu (it seems that a misunderstanding of the News From Lake Wobegon led the owner to make his home in our great state), Babani’s is a family affair and a fun place to eat. If you’re looking for distinctly Kurdish flavors, Babani’s is the only game in town, and it’s a pretty good game.
Babani’s, 544 St. Peter St, St. Paul, MN, 55402; 651.602.9964