Jewish Iraqi Food: Yes, But in Los Angeles?
the invisible restaurant critic
Dear Mr. Gold:
My parents are coming to visit soon and I was hoping to do them proud by finding some authentic Iraqi cuisine akin to what my Baghdad-born father grew up eating just outside of Tel Aviv. His mother has stuffed us many a visit with things like sambusak, the sabich, kubeh, bamia and the ever-present amba. I myself am not sure what, if anything, separates Iraqi Jewish food from Iraqi food at large, and our family holds no religious dietary restrictions, so if there's a great place serving the aforementioned that is not kosher or even Jewish, that is of course fine.
--Nadav A. Havusha
Dear Mr. Havusha:
I could tell you where to go for Jewish Iraqi food in Brooklyn, or where to go for Muslim Iraqi food in Dearborn, Mich., but as far as I know, there is no dedicated Jewish-Iraqi restaurant in Los Angeles. I mean, there must be -- I assume that a pretty big percentage of the Sephardic community here must be Baghdadi -- but the last place I saw amba, the tart Iraqi mango sauce, was on a shwarma plate at Mezze, a pretty good pan-Middle Eastern restaurant with a non-kosher Jewish chef. Mezze may not be what you have in mind, but it is very, very good.
But there are a lot of Israeli restaurants in Los Angeles, and it occurs to me that some of them do in fact have the flaky, meat-filled turnovers called sambusek, the fried-eggplant/hard-boiled-egg sandwich sabich, kube (like kibbe), even the Iranian okra gumbo bamia. That tart sauce on the sabich must, in fact, be amba. So maybe the Aroma Bakery & Cafe in Encino is close to what you're looking for. It is loud, open late and very, very Israeli -- to call the service brusque may be understating things -- and is kosher, thus closed on Shabbat.
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