Memories Evoked Through Food

The mountains in Sulaimaniya, Iraq. Photo taken with my Ilford

Middle Eastern Food in Chicago-Finding Icosium Cafe

Sunday morning I woke up craving simit, which is a Turkish bagel with sesame seeds, haloumi cheese, olives seasoned with herbs and a hardboiled egg. There was a cafe that opened while I was living in Iraq (an exciting event in and of itself) and that was what I would always have for breakfast. I mention this because I was craving Middle Eastern food. I then met my friend Ruby and Amber at Icosium Cafe, an Algerian restaurant, in Andersonville and when I walked in I was transported to another place.

Sulaimaniya, Iraq 
It was the cut work lanterns and the rugs along with the very cozy feel that made one feel like you were no longer on the streets of Chicago. Oh, and then there was the menu. I started with an Algerian cafe, which is much like a Turkish coffee. They make it perfectly with a hint of cardamom. One of the ladies in our office in Iraq would always insist on making me a drink and I would always insist no, until I realized I was rejecting her hospitality. She made me a nescafe, but she would boil milk, nescafe and cardamom seeds together and sweeten it with sugar. It was delicious and it was my introduction to cardamom. For brunch I had the Marrakesh Crepe and it was the perfect blend of savory and sweet. I could not stop saying how good it was!

Sulaimaniya, Iraq
I told Ruby and Amber that this place reminded me of Iraq and my travels and I got a little choked up. So much happened in such a compressed amount of time that I feel sometimes like I am still unpacking those memories. I miss the people of Iraq. I miss my staff and the friends that I made. I miss our vegetable stand. We had the freshest fruit and veg while in Iraq. Tomatoes tasted like tomatoes, the cucumbers were so freaking delicious we gnawed on them like carrots, the watermelon, oh don't get me started on the watermelon. The honey soaked figs that someone's mother gave us and I would drizzle over my yogurt. The best yogurt ever served at a truck stop with honey and a bit of thin bread, almost like a tortilla, that you would use in lieu of a spoon to sop up the yogurt.
Dates in my dish from Turkey

Just around the corner from Icosium Cafe on Foster is a small Middle Eastern grocery store. I walked through exclaiming at all the familiar treats. I was too overwhelmed to buy anything beyond some pita, fresh dates and haloumi cheese. I went back home and started looking through my cookbooks. While we were living in Iraq, Kari brought me back a fabulous book from Cairo, Egypt called Mediterranean Harvest: Vegetarian Recipes from the World's Healthiest Cuisine. Except for some cheeses from Italy or France, most everything in the book we had at our fingertips and I started baking (even though we had no idea what temperature the oven was) and cooking up a storm. Cora dropped off a copy of The Iraqi Cookbook at my hotel in Paris while I was there for vacation. I also bought a Turkish Cookbook while I was in Istanbul. Going through these cookbooks was like taking a walk through my past. Delicious and just a little bittersweet.
Kari and I in Dohuk, Iraq

I mentioned on my Mighty Life List that I wanted to make Iraqi dolma and have a dinner party. I think it may be time to set a date.

Oh and the picture below is to show what making an apple pie in Iraq looks like!


Originally Published 2/26/13

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