In the mid-1980s, Akram Saeed, Jenar Mohammed and their daughter, Media Saeed, emigrated from the Kurdistan region of Iraq to Guam before settling in St. Louis. In January of this year, the family opened Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant in The Grove neighborhood in St. Louis. The menu at Sultan is rooted in the Kurdish dishes of Jenar’s youth, such as pilau, the ubiquitous basmati rice dish made with lentils, onions and almonds and served with kebabs, and sheeshbarak, a version of the dumplings found throughout the region stuffed with beef and cooked in a delicately seasoned yogurt sauce.
Why did you want to open Sultan? My mom always liked cooking. She has a passion for it, and opening her own restaurant was just something she wanted to do. So [my parents] went ahead and gave it a try, and it’s been pretty successful. –Media Saeed
What’s been the most rewarding part? The most rewarding part is owning a business and having the whole family work there together, plus seeing customers and all sorts of families getting together – that’s the best part. –Akram Saeed and Jenar Mohammed
How would you define Kurdish cuisine for those who are unfamiliar? Everything that we eat has to include either rice, bread or meat. And then there’s the traditional lentil soup: We have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s how good it is. –A.S. and J.M.
Sultan’s menu incorporates food cultures across the Middle East. How did you learn to make those dishes? Our menu features mainly Kurdish dishes, which [Jenar] learned how to make from her mother and grandmother. But for other dishes, we wanted to cater to our customers’ needs, so [Jenar] looked up YouTube videos and put her own twist on the [recipes] she found. –M.S.
Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant, 4200 Manchester Ave., The Grove, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.390.2020
Editor’s Note: Our conversation with Akram Saeed and Jenar Mohammed was translated by their daughter, Media.