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London’s most interesting restaurants of 2018: Etles in Walthamstow
Etles, Uyghur restaurant, in Walthamstow
Andrew Leitch/Eater London

10 London Restaurants Serving Cross-Border Cuisines

Where to find the best Kurdish, Kashmiri, Uyghur, and Basque food that connect people across borders

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Etles, Uyghur restaurant, in Walthamstow
| Andrew Leitch/Eater London

The idea of national cuisine is a strategy rather than a reality: It performs cultural homogeneity where it does not exist, and helps build loyalty to an imaginary nation in the service of a political state. Minority communities and culinary traditions that don’t obey the borders of a nation-state are effaced and disregarded by this idea. Food, as a rule, transgresses borderlands, even in highly politically charged spaces. In these circumstances, the naming of a national or communal cuisine can work in the opposite direction. It can be an act of resilience against the violently exclusionary state politics that would rather absorb or suppress the existence of such communities.

This map looks at four borderland cuisines, offering a guide to the best restaurants and cafes in London serving Kurdish, Kashmiri, Uyghur, and Basque food. The region of Kurdistan was carved up by the French and British after the First World War and divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. At the hands of Iraq in the 1990s, and more recently Turkey, the Kurds have been subject to waves of state repression. The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group native to Xinjiang in Northern China, which borders many Central Asian countries. Over recent years, the Uyghurs have suffered widespread abuse and persecution at the hands of the Chinese government. Kashmir has been subject to more than a half-century territorial conflict between India and Pakistan (a legacy of the end of the British empire), in which it is estimated more than 100,000 people have died since the end of the 1980s. Under these challenging circumstances, taking pride in naming, cooking, and serving Uyghur leghmen, Kurdish hajari, and Kashmiri kabargah are acts of resistance, hope, and joy.

By contrast, the Basque country — which straddles Spanish and French territory — is a relatively safe place to live. Basque food is even globally celebrated. In Michelin star terms, the Basques have the whole Milky Way. It hasn’t always been this way, though. During the Franco years, regional cultural practices and languages were repressed. The post-Franco years, however, were a period of creative flourishing for the gastronomic Basques, and in the 1970s the New Basque Cuisine — molecular wizardry that has since won over the world — was born. Here, then, is another story of resistance and persistence. It’s a reminder of what’s possible when people cease to be persecuted and are allowed to live freely.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Etles Uyghur Restaurant

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Uyghur cooking is a tactile activity, the traces of which come out pleasingly in the eating: there are noodles or leghmen, uneven with the memory of hands deftly tugging and pulling at the dough, and boiled dumplings or tugur, with moon craters across their skin and the ghosts of fingertips pinching them snugly together. At Etles, a cosy living room of a restaurant in Walthamstow, those hands belong to chef-owner Mukaddes Yadikar. Finish a meal of noodles, dumplings, and delicate cumin-spiced lamb skewers with a bowl of Uyghur milk tea that’s rich, malty, and sweet-salty like good popcorn. 

Dilara Uyghur Restaurant

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All the cooking at Dilara is done behind the takeaway counter, so customers who stay in and sink into the leather dining chairs are in for a visual treat: chefs pulling long pliable noodles for leghmen, marjan qorimisi (diced noodles with beef), and the popular large plate chicken served with potatoes and noodles. There is an extensive dumpling offering too, including tugure, Uyghur manti, and samsa. The latter is a little pastry ball that arrives at the moment where it can hold its filling no longer, and the pastry cracks rebelliously, spilling lamb and sweet onions onto the plate. 

Kashmir Kebabish

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Lias Khan Din’s inconspicuous Kashmiri takeaway on Ridley Road has been open since 1995. While the surrounding area has changed rapidly, Din’s menu and his head chef have been constants over the years. Go early when the market is creaking to life, for a spiriting breakfast of paratha stuffed with spicy egg and onion omelette or for a helping of nourishing, sweet dal. At lunch, biryani, saag, dal and balti curries wait in a dozen silver trays to be scooped out with long spoons and piled generously onto rice. Rotating specials include matar paneer (pea and paneer curry) on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and lamb shank on Saturdays, which keep the canteen both interesting and reliable.  

Kurdistan Cafe

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It can be hard to find a spot at this Iraqi-Kurdish run café during the midday rush: the few tables are quickly occupied by regulars sitting down to shawarma, stews, and fresh flatbreads. On Fridays, kubeh is on offer, and on Saturdays, the special is a real treat of Iraqi pacha: lamb’s head, trotters, and tripe in broth. At breakfast, things are a little slower, so customers can take their time over a chickpea soup or a plate of makhlama – a warming tangle of eggs, lamb mince, tomatoes, and peppers, served with a slice of lemon. At three for £1, it would be ludicrous to leave without a bag of flatbreads under the arm. 

Kurdistan Restaurant London

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Some of the best Kurdish-run restaurants in London can be found on Edgware Road, where many serve both Iraqi and Kurdish cuisine. Lunch or dinner at Kurdistan Restaurant is best feasted on sharing plates of kubbah and falafel, whole grilled fish, mixed grilled kebabs and koftas. Flatbreads, bubbling like molten lava, are ferried attentively straight from the tannour to the table whenever someone’s basket starts to run low. These fine breads are best eaten immediately (before they cool and become brittle), dragged through a pool of thick, warm, and spicy foul medames or a well-muddled shakshuka. 

Lurra – meaning earth in Basque – specialising in ripe steaks, is no rustic Basque tavern. It’s a bright and gleaming retreat on Seymour Place, with a herb-bordered dining courtyard rivalling Safin’s poison garden. The short menu goes for impact: whole-grilled turbot and octopus alongside famous aged Galician beef steaks. The wine list offers no less than three different Vega Sicilia wines and tops out at £720 for a bottle of Dominio de Pingus. For Basque fidelity, there are also bottles of txakoli and sparkling cider. It’s perhaps just the kind of Basque restaurant one would expect from two ex-City workers with a love of fine dining and a strong aesthetic eye. A more relaxed menu and dining experience can be found just across the road at Lurra’s sister restaurant, Donostia. 

Nandine (Camberwell Church Street)

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Big flavoured, riotously coloured, cheap, and vegetarian-friendly Kurdish food on Church Street: Nandine’s ongoing popularity is a sure thing. But while there is plenty of space for frivolity over pink drizzled fries, Nandine is also a serious project of culinary storytelling. Head chef Pary Baban grew up in southern Kurdistan. After fleeing the Kurdish genocide of the late 1980s, Baban spent time living in Iranian (Eastern) Kurdistan, before moving to London. The food at Nandine reflects these travels across the Kurdish culinary scene: for example, stewed aubergine tapsi may be typical to Iraqi Kurdish food, but it is served over a refreshing dill fragranced rice that is unmistakably Persian in palette. 

Yada's Green Kitchen

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Yada’s has given up its intimate-but-hard-to-locate Peckham railway arch for a glass-fronted restaurant on the main beat of Rye Lane. Like Nandine, cousin Yada Baban too comes from a tradition of southern Kurdish cooking. Bread – a point of pride for Kurdish cuisine – varies from region to region, from tagine-baked naans to stone-baked flatbreads. Even as Yada’s stays faithful to an Iraqi-Kurdish staple with fluffy samoon hajari bread, the new menu reveals a strong Persian inflection too. Finjan – like Iranian fesenjoon – is chicken on the bone, cooked until it falls apart tenderly in a rich stew of pomegranate molasses and walnuts. Many of the mains are accompanied with a vegetarian version of ghormeh sabzi, made with lentils rather than the more usual kidney beans.

Kashmir Restaurant

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Wherever he has lived and cooked – New Delhi, Singapore, London – Rohit Razdan has devoted himself to celebrating the cuisine of his native Kashmir. At his Putney restaurant, Razdan serves up traditional and celebratory dishes such as gushtaba or lamb meatballs in a light and mild yoghurt sauce; kabargah, lamb ribs that have been cooked in milk and then deep fried; dum aloo, baby potatoes in red chilli yoghurt sauce; and nadru kebab, made with lotus root and fennel seeds. Many of these dishes are features of the Kashmiri wazwan, an elaborate multi-course meal served at weddings and festivals. At Razdan’s restaurant, all are welcome to the feast.  

Tokova Restaurant

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Cristina Ruiz grew up in San Sebastián, eating her baker grandfather’s apple cake, while elsewhere in the city, Juan Mari Arzak and Pedro Subijana were pioneering the New Basque Cuisine. Now, she owns Tokova, which is part of the night life of Tooting’s historic Broadway Market (by day, it’s still grocers, fishmongers, butchers, and a pet shop). Ruiz’s restaurant is all about good-humoured food, ranging from the playfully absurd – skewers of chorizo suspended over a flaming ceramic pig – to the straightforwardly delicious, a winning trifecta of duck egg, blood sausage, and paprika migas (breadcrumbs). Celeriac curled in a manchego and Idiazábal sauce would rival any good cauliflower cheese. And there’s just a sprinkling of the old New with a dusting of dehydrated olives.  

Etles Uyghur Restaurant

Uyghur cooking is a tactile activity, the traces of which come out pleasingly in the eating: there are noodles or leghmen, uneven with the memory of hands deftly tugging and pulling at the dough, and boiled dumplings or tugur, with moon craters across their skin and the ghosts of fingertips pinching them snugly together. At Etles, a cosy living room of a restaurant in Walthamstow, those hands belong to chef-owner Mukaddes Yadikar. Finish a meal of noodles, dumplings, and delicate cumin-spiced lamb skewers with a bowl of Uyghur milk tea that’s rich, malty, and sweet-salty like good popcorn. 

Dilara Uyghur Restaurant

All the cooking at Dilara is done behind the takeaway counter, so customers who stay in and sink into the leather dining chairs are in for a visual treat: chefs pulling long pliable noodles for leghmen, marjan qorimisi (diced noodles with beef), and the popular large plate chicken served with potatoes and noodles. There is an extensive dumpling offering too, including tugure, Uyghur manti, and samsa. The latter is a little pastry ball that arrives at the moment where it can hold its filling no longer, and the pastry cracks rebelliously, spilling lamb and sweet onions onto the plate. 

Kashmir Kebabish

Lias Khan Din’s inconspicuous Kashmiri takeaway on Ridley Road has been open since 1995. While the surrounding area has changed rapidly, Din’s menu and his head chef have been constants over the years. Go early when the market is creaking to life, for a spiriting breakfast of paratha stuffed with spicy egg and onion omelette or for a helping of nourishing, sweet dal. At lunch, biryani, saag, dal and balti curries wait in a dozen silver trays to be scooped out with long spoons and piled generously onto rice. Rotating specials include matar paneer (pea and paneer curry) on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and lamb shank on Saturdays, which keep the canteen both interesting and reliable.  

Kurdistan Cafe

It can be hard to find a spot at this Iraqi-Kurdish run café during the midday rush: the few tables are quickly occupied by regulars sitting down to shawarma, stews, and fresh flatbreads. On Fridays, kubeh is on offer, and on Saturdays, the special is a real treat of Iraqi pacha: lamb’s head, trotters, and tripe in broth. At breakfast, things are a little slower, so customers can take their time over a chickpea soup or a plate of makhlama – a warming tangle of eggs, lamb mince, tomatoes, and peppers, served with a slice of lemon. At three for £1, it would be ludicrous to leave without a bag of flatbreads under the arm. 

Kurdistan Restaurant London

Some of the best Kurdish-run restaurants in London can be found on Edgware Road, where many serve both Iraqi and Kurdish cuisine. Lunch or dinner at Kurdistan Restaurant is best feasted on sharing plates of kubbah and falafel, whole grilled fish, mixed grilled kebabs and koftas. Flatbreads, bubbling like molten lava, are ferried attentively straight from the tannour to the table whenever someone’s basket starts to run low. These fine breads are best eaten immediately (before they cool and become brittle), dragged through a pool of thick, warm, and spicy foul medames or a well-muddled shakshuka. 

Lurra

Lurra – meaning earth in Basque – specialising in ripe steaks, is no rustic Basque tavern. It’s a bright and gleaming retreat on Seymour Place, with a herb-bordered dining courtyard rivalling Safin’s poison garden. The short menu goes for impact: whole-grilled turbot and octopus alongside famous aged Galician beef steaks. The wine list offers no less than three different Vega Sicilia wines and tops out at £720 for a bottle of Dominio de Pingus. For Basque fidelity, there are also bottles of txakoli and sparkling cider. It’s perhaps just the kind of Basque restaurant one would expect from two ex-City workers with a love of fine dining and a strong aesthetic eye. A more relaxed menu and dining experience can be found just across the road at Lurra’s sister restaurant, Donostia. 

Nandine (Camberwell Church Street)

Big flavoured, riotously coloured, cheap, and vegetarian-friendly Kurdish food on Church Street: Nandine’s ongoing popularity is a sure thing. But while there is plenty of space for frivolity over pink drizzled fries, Nandine is also a serious project of culinary storytelling. Head chef Pary Baban grew up in southern Kurdistan. After fleeing the Kurdish genocide of the late 1980s, Baban spent time living in Iranian (Eastern) Kurdistan, before moving to London. The food at Nandine reflects these travels across the Kurdish culinary scene: for example, stewed aubergine tapsi may be typical to Iraqi Kurdish food, but it is served over a refreshing dill fragranced rice that is unmistakably Persian in palette. 

Yada's Green Kitchen

Yada’s has given up its intimate-but-hard-to-locate Peckham railway arch for a glass-fronted restaurant on the main beat of Rye Lane. Like Nandine, cousin Yada Baban too comes from a tradition of southern Kurdish cooking. Bread – a point of pride for Kurdish cuisine – varies from region to region, from tagine-baked naans to stone-baked flatbreads. Even as Yada’s stays faithful to an Iraqi-Kurdish staple with fluffy samoon hajari bread, the new menu reveals a strong Persian inflection too. Finjan – like Iranian fesenjoon – is chicken on the bone, cooked until it falls apart tenderly in a rich stew of pomegranate molasses and walnuts. Many of the mains are accompanied with a vegetarian version of ghormeh sabzi, made with lentils rather than the more usual kidney beans.

Kashmir Restaurant

Wherever he has lived and cooked – New Delhi, Singapore, London – Rohit Razdan has devoted himself to celebrating the cuisine of his native Kashmir. At his Putney restaurant, Razdan serves up traditional and celebratory dishes such as gushtaba or lamb meatballs in a light and mild yoghurt sauce; kabargah, lamb ribs that have been cooked in milk and then deep fried; dum aloo, baby potatoes in red chilli yoghurt sauce; and nadru kebab, made with lotus root and fennel seeds. Many of these dishes are features of the Kashmiri wazwan, an elaborate multi-course meal served at weddings and festivals. At Razdan’s restaurant, all are welcome to the feast.  

Tokova Restaurant

Cristina Ruiz grew up in San Sebastián, eating her baker grandfather’s apple cake, while elsewhere in the city, Juan Mari Arzak and Pedro Subijana were pioneering the New Basque Cuisine. Now, she owns Tokova, which is part of the night life of Tooting’s historic Broadway Market (by day, it’s still grocers, fishmongers, butchers, and a pet shop). Ruiz’s restaurant is all about good-humoured food, ranging from the playfully absurd – skewers of chorizo suspended over a flaming ceramic pig – to the straightforwardly delicious, a winning trifecta of duck egg, blood sausage, and paprika migas (breadcrumbs). Celeriac curled in a manchego and Idiazábal sauce would rival any good cauliflower cheese. And there’s just a sprinkling of the old New with a dusting of dehydrated olives.  

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