This is why I love Babani’s Kurdish Restaurant

Have you ever wondered why it is when you’re trying to settle on a restaurant and you ask yourself “what kind of food am I craving?”, you almost never say ‘Kurdish’? Well, as with everything else in the universe, I have some very passionate, thinly-researched theories on the subject.

The obscurity of this cuisine in North America aside, I’ve hypothesized that it has something to do with the term itself. Say it to yourself – Kurd. Kuuurrrd. Not a particularly attractive word to the anglicized ear. First of all, it sounds too much like ‘turd’. If you can overlook that unpleasantness, the word evokes images of unpalatable globules of bean products, fairytale mush (kurds and whey) and cholesterol-saturated, deep-fried balls (cheese curds) served at the State Fair, prepared by a teenagers making $3.50 an hour that only wash their hands once a day (if that).

In fairness, ‘French’ rhymes with ‘stench’ and ‘wench’ among other things that don’t exactly open the saliva ducts, and the word (at least for me) evokes images of hateful waiters, hilarious fashion trends and sidewalks strewn with dog shit. But for some reason there’s 127 French restaurants in the metro area. Goes to show you what endearing accents and lots of butter can do for your P.R.

Being no fan of beans and having gotten an eyeful of the complexion melting, ass-widening effects of cheese curds, I’m simply unable to spontaneously summon any appetizing feelings when someone utters the word ‘kurd’. This is a shame because, Babani’s Kurdish Restaurant offers wondrously tasty and cheap food, despite their disturbing affection for beans.

Billed as the first authentic Kurdish restaurant in the country, this modest eatery on the edge of downtown St. Paul is defying all restaurateur odds. They don’t have a web site, they rarely return messages left on their (often full) voicemail, parking in the area sucks and at lunchtime they have only one hapless guy racing around serving as host, waiter, cashier and busboy. Yet Babani’s still enjoys relative popularity due to the constant flow of loyal regulars in need of a savory and inexpensive lunch. Every table in the joint was filled during a recent Tuesday lunch hour. Can the St Paul Grill say the same thing?

Being waaaaay outside my normal stomping grounds, I only get to lunch here once or twice a year with a buddy that works nearby. Being something of a culinary autistic, I always get the exact same thing when I’m there, the ‘bakla with chicken’, so I can’t even write intelligently about the other items on the menu. Bakla is kind of like a middle eastern stir fry with a spiced sauté of mushrooms, broccoli, zucchini and onion over rice with a small salad on the side. It comes in beef and vegetarian form too – my buddy claims that if all vegetarian meals were so delicious, he’d never eat meat again. Sounds like a (Café) Brenda challenge to me. Bring it.

According to a decade old review by Dara Moskowitz, Babani’s other offerings are regrettably bland (this is what happens when you insist on serving beans with everything people!), but one has to assume that the menu has been tweaked in the ensuing 10 years and that the food has been jazzed up to satisfy the American palate. This mini-review on is a little more forgiving. Or perhaps there’s simply an unsettling minority that enjoys being served a mountain of beans, but I doubt it.

Babani’s Kurdish Restaurant
Mon-Thu 11am-9pm, Fri 11am-10pm, Sat 1pm-10pm, Sun 3pm-9pm
544 Saint Peter St
St Paul
(651) 602-9964

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Eating | 28.01.2008 12:16 | 5 Comments

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