From Baghdad to Your Backyard

Iraqi emigrée Roaa Sardar delivers kunafa, shawarma and more around Delhi.  ♦

The Back(lava) Story

The first few times we call Roaa Sardar to ask her about her Arabic food delivery service, we can hear her baby daughter shrieking on the other end. “I’ll call you back!” Roaa says, sounding hassled. “Indian children are too, too, naughty,” the Iraqi transplant to Delhi sighs when we finally get around to talking. 

Roaa’s husband is Indian and works in Qatar as an architect. Originally from Baghdad, she came to Delhi in 2004 for graduate studies at Jamia Millia Islamia. With the situation at home being what it was, she decided to remain in India, working at the Iraqi Embassy for a couple of years. Once her mother—an accomplished cook—joined her in India, she began thinking of other ways to keep busy. 

Take It As Bread

“In Baghdad, we have so many cheap, good restaurants,” Roaa tells us. “In Delhi everything is very expensive… and ghee, ghee, ghee in everything. We are absolutely against ghee. Matlab, we use only butter.”

The liberal use of butter is apparent in Sardar’s baked goods—stuffed pies, croissants, buns, baguettes, and rolls—which are of the soft, bready style found in bakeries in Iraq. When we order one of almost every item on her two-page menu (for a grand total of Rs 2,000), we especially enjoy a “mini zaatar & olive pizza,” liberally topped with the herb mixture, and perfect with some homemade hummus.  

Rice Rolled

We’re impressed with an unmessy chicken shawarma roll, good for healthy eating days. The salads— fattoush and tabbouleh—taste right, with a good mix of tang and crunch, even if the lettuce has wilted a bit in transit. 

A simple “Arabic chicken biryani” — there’s a veg version too, as well as falafel rolls — is also a good deal, at Rs 300 for a kilo. It’s gently spiced, almost pulao-like, with peas, carrots and chunks of meat. Sardar tells us she won’t add more chilly to her food, even if the Indian palate demands it. “Sometimes people tell me they don’t like my food,” she says, “but Indians who’ve lived abroad, in Canada, or the Gulf, they usually enjoy it.” Sardar’s clientele so far has largely been Arab; our order in Nizamuddin East was her first outside of the area surrounding Friends Colony since she began the business some months ago.

But her standout items are the desserts. Roaa’s kunafa is a true rockstar; a generous layer of sweet cheese sandwiched between baked, honeyed vermicelli. We also love almond baklava (she makes the pistachio and cream versions), which has a properly hardened filo base and flaky filo top. We’ll try her cupcakes and Napoleon pastries next time, but a half-kilo of baklava may just become a standard monthly treat. We enjoy its homeliness more than its golden brethren at Meher Chand Market’s Kunafa, which seems frou-frou in contrast, as you would be if your core clientele consisted of diplomats and Jor-Baghians.

Roaa says she’d like to open a café, but is currently figuring out the logistics of keeping her prices low while sustaining quality and looking after her naughty Indian baby. She took stock recently and realised that her original prices were just about covering material costs. A slight hike may mean fewer orders, but she knows it’s no mamool-i baat to be bringing Delhi a taste of her home. 

Getting there: The service needs time to prepare fresh food; depending on the order, call a day in advance. Whatsapp +91-88266-71649. Delivery costs extra.

This story was originally published on Brown Paper Bag.

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