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Iraqis develop taste for Western foods
Submitted by: jmichaels56
This is a version of a story I wrote for USA TODAY:
BAGHDAD -- Saysaban restaurant never closed for business, even when U.S. tanks rolled into the city in 2003 and later when the city later spiraled toward civil war.
Diners sitting at outdoor tables among the date palms would occasionally hear the sounds of rockets flying overhead, often aimed at the Green Zone on the other side of the Tigris River. The rockets never fazed the neatly dressed waiters who maneuvered between tables balancing trays with mounds of rice, kebabs, salads and grilled fish.
“The owner insisted we keep this restaurant open,” says manager Haider Abbas, 41.
Baghdad is more peaceful now, but Saysaban and other restaurants now face a new challenge: changing Iraqi tastes.
Iraqis are increasingly seeking out Western or international cuisine when they go out to restaurants. Once cut off from the world, most households now have satellite television and internet access, exposing Iraqis to Western eating habits.
It has made Iraqis hungry for the food they see on television.
Saysaban still serves the kebabs that Iraq is known for but it has expanded its menu to include “San Francisco steak” and ginger chicken. Several years ago it stopped making masgouf, a large river fish which is split open and grilled over an open fire.
Abbas said diners complained about the smoke and that fewer people were ordering it. “Tastes change,” shrugs Abbas.
Most of Iraq’s television stations air cooking shows, which is fueling the hunger for international cuisine.
Traditional Iraqi food is still popular, even if most of the new restaurants springing up in Baghdad specialize in foods like pizza, pasta or fried chicken.
In a small storefront in Baghdad’s old section, men crowded into a narrow shop, where they are served kubbe, ground meat cooked in shell made from bulgur, which is ladled from a vast boiling stockpot. The men stand elbow to elbow on long tables, passing bread among them to sop up the broth.
Iraqis are particularly proud of their kebabs, which in Iraq is made from ground lamb that is lightly spiced and grilled over an open fire. What makes the Iraqi kebabs distinctive is the breed of sheep that is common to Iraq.
Hasnawi Restaurant does a brisk business selling one part of the sheep: its head. The dish is called pacha and it looks just like it sounds. The head is boiled for hours before serving.