Kurdish in Edinburgh

Vegetarians beware: Although the featured restaurant has plenty of veggie options, this review unapologetically delights in meat from assorted animals.

Hanam’s in Edinburgh, Scotland: A restaurant review

In a tourist town, most prominent restaurants can’t help but be pretty great. Our recent trip to Scotland is a testament to this trend. We were able to sample the high-quality wares of several Scottish, British, Italian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern establishments from Edinburgh and Glasgow through central Scotland, up the Great Glen, and into Inverness. We even managed to find the occasional suburban jewel.

Hanam’s is a Kurdish and Middle Eastern restaurant in Old Town Edinburgh, a short tumble down the hill from the castle. In keeping with the idea that Edinburgh and Glasgow may be more cosmopolitan than particularly Scottish in population, several of our servers at various ethnic restaurants were transplants from Greece or other countries in the European Union. Our server at Hanam’s was from Romania or Bulgaria, if I recall correctly.

After visiting Edinburgh Castle and the Real Mary King’s Close, among other Old Town attractions, we followed our fledgling fancy for Turkish and Middle Eastern victuals back up that steep hill. Incidentally, walking in Edinburgh is, largely, hill walking. My husband’s mouth watered just knowing there was a Turkish restaurant in town, so what was one more climb after a long day of sightseeing and fetching our rental car for excursions northward, which would start early the next morning?

During several business trips in years past he got to know Turkish culture and cuisine, nurturing what would become a deep, abiding affection for both. Unfortunately, the way things are going in Turkey, they’re unlikely to earn membership in the EU any time soon. The restrictive state of things there after the recent unrest and attempted coup saddens us, but I digress. It doesn’t stop us from celebrating the best of their gastronomy.

The husband has even gone gourmet at home with his own recipe for Turkish chickpea stew spiced with baharat, a special blend of spices the combination of which depends on where you’re from and what you like. Hubby uses black pepper, cumin, crushed mint, coriander, a dash of cinnamon, some cardamom, cayenne pepper, and sometimes AllSpice. Chickpeas, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, garlic, Yukon gold potatoes, and sometimes ground lamb round out the main ingredients.

He has made the stew on several occasions both special and mundane, sometimes with meat, sometimes without. Although I’m not a fan of the cumin or cayenne, generally I like it when he makes this meal, especially since I don’t have to do much of the work!

Thus, among the restaurants we planned to sample in Scotland, we heartily agreed: For our last night in Edinburgh, we would try that Kurdish-slash-Turkish place on the hill.

Soujuk is another one of Hubby’s favorites, which he describes with glee as “spicy, flavorful, cured goodness,” but it’s basically a Middle Eastern and Balkan beef sausage. So there would be Soujuk on the table that night, this time Lebanese style, “sauteed in tomato, green pepper, garlic and chilli, served with naan bread,” which made it very stew like.

His main course was Gosht Kebab, a spiced, minced lamb kebab he thoroughly enjoyed.

The cooking types at Hanam’s also make a mean leg of lamb, which was my main course. It’s called Qozy Lamb on the menu. This magical meat slides off the bone so easily, no edible morsels remain. Ah, tender, juicy little lamb. . . . Accompanying that wonderful meat was a spicier side dish. The menu describes it this way:

“Qozy Lamb – A generous portion of tender braised lamb on the bone, perched on top of rice, with bread and a portion of your choice of tapsi or bamya – simply delicious!” And it was.

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Qozy Lamb at Hanam’s, photo from their website

For my side dish, I went with the tapsi. It’s a type of Shilla, or shilah, sauce, a “Kurdish favourite of aubergines (eggplant for you non-French speakers), green peppers, onions & sliced potatoes layered with a spiced tomato sauce.” Very tasty–and vegetarian.

Bamya is a type of Shilla sauce made with “tender okra cooked slowly with chopped tomatoes & a hint of garlic.”

Other uniquely Kurdish items on the menu include their version of chicken biryani and the Mushakal Kebab Platter, “a real Kurdish feast to share with 4 skewers: chicken wings, minced lamb, lamb fillet and chicken breast kebabs.”

Hanam’s also offers culinary gems in the traditions of Saudi, Persian including Iranian-style kebabs, and other Middle Eastern staples such as fatoush, falafel, baba ghanoush, hummus, and shawarma wraps. Baklawa (baklava) was on the dessert menu, but we were too full and spent to sample any. I drank mango lassi with my dinner, a refreshing mango juice drink often served at Indian restaurants.

Hanam’s full dinner menu is an 8-page document clearly describing each item and how it’s served.

Despite its being a Monday night, we didn’t arrive especially early so we were a bit surprised more people weren’t partaking in the wonderfulness. Granted, it was late September, not exactly the height of the tourist season. But take note: This food really is good, people. If you haven’t tried it, make a point of doing so.

Besides housing great food, Hanam’s decor was rich with reds and golds and a few woven tapestry-type wall hangings, fresh yet crisp night air wafted in from a nearby window we could open or close as desired, and the service was friendly and professional.

A terrific dining experience I’m happy to recommend. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

So if you find yourself in Edinburgh and you’re visiting the castle, walk by Hanam’s and take a whiff of their delightful preparations. Chances are, the rest of your body will follow your nose inside, and your palate will thank you.

The sister restaurants of Hanam’s in Edinburgh are Laila’s and Pomegranate.

Five-Phrase Friday (38): Scotland

So here’s the state of the art on my painstaking vacation planning. Gee, I thought vacation was supposed to be fun. . . . Huh.

Despite (or because of) all the great things to see, despite my fondness for Shakespeare and English literature, and despite a long process of selecting favorite English regions, cities, and sights, England, let alone London, has not made the cut.

Scotland is now our sole target country for this first dedicated family trip of some length.

I feel kind of foolish because I’m not Scottish and neither is my husband. It feels illegitimate somehow, like we’re imposters or something. Since we aren’t going to an extremely different climate and culture as would be the case on an African safari or in other seemingly more exotic locales like the Tropics or Tokyo or Tasmania, I feel compelled to be very selective about the part of Europe we explore together. It feels as if we should have some personal connection, relatives, work purpose, or people we know there.

He’s Slovenian (Italian-ate) and Latvian; I’m Irish, English, German, and Dutch. I travelled France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands (where some known cousins live) almost 20 years ago during college, and he’s been to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and France on business. I speak French; he speaks (a little) German, understands some French.

So why Scotland?

It’s really all down to Outlander and my obsession therewith. Through the journey of the story, Scotland has become personal. Scottish Gaelic is even becoming my third language. Visiting does seem full of purpose. I feel as though I do know the people, at least more than I did before my deep and abiding interest in the book and TV series set there.

No apologies, no excuses, no misgivings, no sheepishness, but maybe some sheep, and maybe for dinner . . . mmm, haggis (?!). Research, plan, prepare, go, enjoy, and remember. And be grateful for the chance. And remember, the best laid schemes . . .

Five Scottish regional destinations for a 2-week visit, clockwise order from the south-west: Most preferred sights are listed for each area, though we may will not make it to all of them.

  1. Glasgow and environs (4 nights Glasgow) – Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Park, City Chambers, Glasgow Cathedral/Necropolis, a play, boat ride on the river Clyde; Cumbernauld (Outlander studios drive-by), Falkirk Wheel, Stirling Castle, Doune Castle (Monty Python, Castle Leoch), Wallace Monument
  2. The Trossachs, Argyll, and Central Highlands – Loch Lomond (and maybe Loch Katrine) in Trossachs National Park; Loch Awe, Inveraray Castle; Glencoe
  3. The Great Glen, Highlands, and west coast (2 nights Fort William) – Fort William, Glenfinnan Monument (Jacobite Rebellion launch), Jacobite Steam Train to Mallaig, lochs and walks in the Great Glen; Eilean Donan Castle
  4. Inverness and environs (3 nights Inverness) – Inverness Visitors Centre, excursions to Foyers Falls, Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle (maybe a boat ride), Cawdor Castle (Macbeth), Culloden Moor (Jacobite Rebellion), Clava Cairns (standing stones with split rock), Cromarty, Black Isle, Moray Firth
  5. Edinburgh and environs (4-5 nights Edinburgh) – Edinburgh Castle, National Museum of Scotland, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Calton Hill, The Royal Mile main street, which includes Writers’ Museum, Greyfriars Kirk (“Bobby” the Westie), St. Giles’ Cathedral, Scott Monument, and more; Southern Uplands including Rosslyn Chapel and maybe Abbotsford House (Sir Walter Scott) and Melrose Abbey
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Glencoe & the West Highland Way. Image by ScotlandNow, The Daily Record online

The above sites are separate from several specific towns and rural locations where the Outlander TV series has been filmed. After some consideration, I’m inclined to skip a packaged Outlander tour in favor of making our own. I know enough about the books, TV series, and show creators that information won’t be lacking, and we need not be further restricted in our movements or schedule.

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Eilean Donan Castle, W. Highlands. Image by ScotlandNow, The Daily Record online

Outlander-related locations, many of which we can catch en route to others, include (my preferences in bold):

  1. Culross, Fife, between Edinburgh and Stirling (Crainsmuir, the Black Kirk)
  2. Falkland, Fife, with the Covenanter Hotel (Mrs. Baird’s B&B, 1940s Inverness)
  3. Pollok Country Park, Glasgow (Castle Leoch grounds, Paris woods duel)
  4. George Square, Glasgow (Frank’s wedding proposal to Claire)
  5. Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, Highlands (wool waulking, rent collection)
  6. Loch Rannoch/Rannoch Moor near Glencoe (backdrop for Craig Na Dun)
  7. Tulloch Ghru, Highlands, near Cairngorms National Park (opening credits and hilly woods between Craigh Na Dun and Leoch)

Those near Edinburgh are:

  1. Blackness Castle, on Firth of Forth (Randall’s Fort William, of Jamie’s flogging)
  2. Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian (Wentworth Prison exterior, corridors, eps 115-116)
  3. Hopetoun House, West Lothian (Sandringham’s stately home in ep109)
  4. Glencorse Old Kirk, Glencorse House grounds, Pentland Hills, Midlothian (Jamie and Claire’s wedding, ep107)
  5. Midhope Castle/House, a private residence, Abercorn, Hopetoun estate, South Queensferry (Lallybroch)

I’d also like to visit the Southwest/Borders region closest to England–including Caerlaverock Castle and Caerlaverock Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre, Dumfries, and Robert Burns sights–as well as the Isle of Skye, but there won’t be time. At some point, we’ll need to sample the peaty whiskey (whisky) among the many distilleries.

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Caerlaverock Castle, Borders/Southwest. Image by ScotlandNow, The Daily Record

Life is large and detailed, as is the world. I relish details, the worlds within worlds on this planet. I like to get lost in them, as must be obvious by now from my blog. For two weeks, we’ll get lost, and be found driving on the wrong side of a single-track road along a beautiful loch in the Highlands of Scotland. Details.

Five-Phrase Friday (13): Eerie Emily

On the 13th of the month! This week, I’m doubling back on the Emily Dickinson quotes and renewing a little Halloween spirit, if for no other reason than it’s far too soon to be stringing up Christmas lights (next-door neighbor! #LetTheTurkeyCool), and because it works. Dickinson had a knack for the morbid. See Five-Phrase Friday (2) for the first round featuring her unique turns of phrase.

1. "a tighter breathing and zero at the bone" 
               - from "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"

2. "in horrid-hooting stanza"
               - from "I Like to See It Lap the Miles"

3. "a druidic difference"
               - from "Further in Summer Than the Birds"

4. "on whom I lay a yellow eye" 
               - from "My Life Had Stood a Loaded Gun"

5. "I heard a fly buzz when I died"
               - from "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died"

Note the personification of the train in the title of 2, the subsequent line being “and lick the valleys up.” Metaphors also abound in Dickinson’s work. One of the more interesting ones is her equating of life and a loaded gun.

Until next week, enjoy resisting the holiday season!