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Salamat: Iraqi couscous?

When you go to a restaurant that advertises couscous – in this case Iraqi-style – you just wish they’d cook the semolina right. But everything else at Salamat passed the mark.

Image for Salamat: Iraqi couscous?
Photo by Maia Schoenfelder

When you go to a restaurant that advertises couscous – in this case Iraqi-style – you just wish they’d cook the semolina right. Because everything else at Salamat passed the mark: the stews, the starters, the sauces… but the semolina was definitely the dinner’s lowpoint.

That said, Salamat is nonetheless recommendable and a reminder that Iraq has a fine food tradition, albeit one that does not include couscous!

This is a small, unspectacular restaurant with minimal decoration – not particularly cheerful, not tasteless either – and probably salvaged from total dullness by the generously candlelit tables.

The menu is extensive, with a long list of numbered items, many of them meat-free.

Our vegetarian Vorspeisenteller (€6.50) was a joyful mix of all the mezza of the region, and a rather nice testament to the geographical location of Iraq: tabouli, baba ghanoush, hummus, bulgur, cacik-style labna (Middle Eastern yoghurt) and two fresh golf ball-sized falafels, fried (not microwaved) to order, and among the finest we’ve had in Berlin. It was served with a basket of warm pita bread.

After swiftly consuming our appetizers, we doubled up on couscous – one veggie plate, one lamb. Here came the iffy semolina: an undercooked, gummy mush, with no taste other than that of slightly rancid butter. While semolina keeps well, butter ages badly, and clearly this batch had been around a while before being dumped in the centre of our soup plate with a ladle or two of broth to freshen it up (unsuccessfully).

The vegetable stew (€8) was decent, even if the cauliflower and broccoli seemed a bit out of place. Best was the lamb stew (€12.50), with nice chunks of tender, marinated meat and a delicious sauce that owed a lot to the Persian tradition of cooking dried fruit, apricots in this case. The result was a satisfactory albeit unexpectedly sweet take on traditional couscous. We had to ask for some hot sauce.

For good measure, we also sunk our teeth into some prune tajine (€12.50), adequately served in the clay pot with the funny hat-shaped lid.

Originally a Berber dish from North Africa, Salamat’s salty-sweet variation was delicious: a cook-up of lamb, plums, chickpeas, almonds, carrots, sultanas and potatoes simmered in a cinnamon-coriander-saffron sauce. No semolina to spoil the fun!

We concluded with a glass of (unsweetened) mint tea and a delicious baklava (€1 for a small square) while eyeing the badem, a dollop of yoghurt with pine nuts, almonds, mint and honey (€3) the neighbouring table was dipping into.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, most of the diners at Salamat appeared to be foreigners. Time for Germans to realise that there’s more to Middle Eastern eating than falafel!

As for Françoise, she’s learned her lesson: don’t look for good couscous at an Iraqi restaurant. She’ll be back to try some of the many other more typical dishes on the menu, like the “menazaleh” (baked aubergines with chickpeas and Egyptian beans in a tomato-lemon-coriander sauce – vegetarian €7.50, with lamb €12.50), while keeping up her long and difficult quest for a decent couscous in Berlin. (To be continued…)