Ba Tam – For Breakfast or Lunch

A new café in Kirkgate Market offers home-cooked, healthy Kurdish food. The food is tasty, portions are generous, and everything is reasonably priced. A great place to start the day or refuel after shopping.

Kirkgate Market has a great selection of places to eat with food offered from around the globe. Most are food stalls where you eat at the communal benches or at a few tables next to the stall. Ba Tam is a fully glazed enclosed café. This makes it less draughty and quieter: easier to keep warm and chat while you eat. Although they also do a good trade in take-aways.

The premises have been decorated in grey and yellows, giving it a clean modern look. You order from a counter displaying snacks, kuba and borak ready to be cooked, and pots of hot food. Staff remove lids so you can see the food on offer before choosing. There is a warm welcome, typical of traditional Middle Eastern hospitality.

I ordered the most expensive item on the menu, which was only £8. The special enabled me to taste a variety of dishes: meat and vegetable stews, biryani, dolma and soup. I accompanied my food with a large cup of mastaw, a Kurdish yoghurt drink. This was much more than I would usually eat at lunchtime, but it was so good that I finished it all. The chicken and lamb stews were simple, but the meat was moist and tender. I particularly enjoyed the aubergine stew. Aubergine and tomatoes are cooked with spices to make a warming, comforting dish. The lentil soup was also particularly good, subtly spiced and somehow smooth and textured at the same time.

They do great things with rice here. Even the plain white rice had been cooked to exactly the right point, neither hard nor soft. The vegetable biriyani was perfectly cooked with seasoning and vegetables offering distinct tastes. I am not usually a fan of dolma and would not have ordered them if they had not been part of a special. This café changed my opinion.Thin, finger-sized parcels are filled with moist, spiced rice: sublime.

I have eaten in other Kurdish-run cafes and restaurants around the country, but most have described themselves as either Turkish or Persian. The logo here proclaims the promise of Traditional Kurdish Food. Farzaneh, originally from Saqeze in Iran, and Hearo, from Sulemaniy in Iraq, met sixteen years ago when both had recently arrived in Leeds.  Both women are proud of their Kurdish heritage.

The friends have both worked in catering before, but this is their first independent venture. They have set out to showcase the kind of freshly cooked dishes they would serve to their families. They want to extend their customers’ experience of Kurdish cooking, often offering special dishes alongside the regular menu. They let me taste the date sauce which they were intending to use to cook root vegetables for Saturday lunch.

There is a lot of choice for vegetarians and vegans here, with the majority of dishes not including meat. However, if meat is your thing there is the option of an English fry up for breakfast or a large chicken leg for lunch. I did not have room to try the kuba – fried parcels of spiced meat encased in more of their irresistible rice. The borak, fried pastry rolls, are available in vegetarian or meat options.

Perhaps my next visit will be for breakfast. The Kurdish breakfast is vegetarian and is served with a thick chunk of Turkish style bread. Hearo pointed out to me that what we now think of as Turkish bread, tea or coffee were once known as Kurdish. They also sell a very thin Kurdish bread. Maybe I will try the Kalana served with mastaw, another type of bread that I don’t think I have come across before.

Ba Tam, Farzaneh told me, means delicious. My experience suggests this café is well named.

Ba Tam
465 and 466 Kirkgate Market
Leeds, LS2 7 HY
8am-5pm Monday to Saturday

Do you have a story to tell?
We want to hear your stories and help you share them.