Kahi is the national Iraqi breakfast.
It is a delicious dessert made with filo pastry that is mostly eaten for breakfast in Iraq. It is served alongside honey and a clotted milk cream. Kahi is made of several stacks of filo pastry and is enjoyed in Bagdad cafés.
What is kahi?
It is the national Iraqi breakfast. Kahi is found either in a square shape, or in a rectangle shape.
It is made with stacked filo pastry while butter is basted between each pastry layer. The pastry texture is very close to that of puff pastry but crunchier. This traditional Iraqi breakfast can be made quite quickly. It is enjoyed lukewarm, straight out of the oven.
Kahi is also traditionally accompanied by a sugar syrup or warm honey and a clotted cream with a unique taste called gaymar in Iraq. Kahi is a popular breakfast in Iraq and is consumed in markets, with tea and coffee. Kahi is mostly spread throughout the southern region of Iraq.
This clotted cream is also consumed in other countries of Europe and Asia. Indeed, it can easily be found in Middle Eastern supermarkets under the name of qaimar, gaimar or geymar.
Local Iraqis treat themselves with this traditional breakfast. Expatriated adult Iraqis miss it very dearly. They reminisce over their childhood’s breakfasts, shared with their families at home or in cafés. In Iraq, kahi is served with gaimar.
What is gaymar?
Qaymak, gaimar or geymar, is a milk cream that accompanies several dishes in Iraq. It is very famous and is often consumed for breakfast, on bread, with honey or jam. It is also served alongside the traditional kahi with warm honey.
Etymologically, some historians report that its name is derived from Sumerian, an extinct language spoken during ancient times in lower Mesopotamia. Thus, it is possible for gaimar to be derived from the Sumerian word gamur, which meant “cheese”.
This clotted cream has a 60% fat content. It also has a thick consistency, that can sometimes be a bit grainy. Also, gaimar keeps a creamy aspect because of the milk’s protein fibers. It is different from the usual thick cream in that its taste is very rich.
This clotted cream is unique because, traditionally, it is made from buffalo milk. But it is not uncommon for it to be made from cow, ewe or goat milk in central Asia and in some countries from the Balkans.
The female buffalo is sought after for its milk. But it is also used for agricultural work such as land plowing.
Some archeological research shows that the domestic buffalo has been present since ancient times in the Balkans, in Syria, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Persia as well as in Italy.
As with the domestic beef, there are several breeds of these bovines. These buffalos are found in the wild as well. The wild Asian buffalo is a particularly endangered species. It inhabits swamps and its natural ecosystem is nowadays jeopardized, and some breeds have been exported far from their region of origin. In its domesticated form, the Asian buffalo is a very common animal in China, India and in Southeast Asia.
How to make gaimar
Nowadays in Iraq, it is hard to find buffalo milk in most cities. Their swamps are becoming more and more scarce, their natural habitat is now endangered. Thus, since the end of Saddam Husseins’s rule, Iraq’s swamps are protected by UNESCO.
Gaimar can be made quite easily but needs a few hours of preparation. The traditional method for this clotted cream recommends boiling milk over low heat and to reduce it for two hours while stirring regularly.
Then, the cream is left to settle and ferment for 10 to 12 hours minimum. This fermentation stage is what gives this cream its rich and unique taste. Gaymar is then collected.
In the Balkans, a variant of this cream is found under the name of skorup. The difference is in the method of preparation. Indeed, this clotted cream is left to settle in dried animal skin sacks.
Most of the time, kaymak is made at home. Thus, this cream is kept in the fridge for about a week but has a tendency to harden with time. It is therefore best consumed quickly.
In Turkey, some shops are focused on making kaymak. Although kaymak is part of the traditional Turkish breakfast, it is not uncommon to have it with baklava or other Turkish desserts. It is also used as a filling for crepes.
Kahi variants throughout the world
In the south of Yemen, malawach is a type of bread cooked in a pan, with a base of puff pastry that is very close to kahi.
It is the symbol of Yemen’s cuisine and is found in the form of a thick pancake that results from the stacking of several layers of puff pastry. Unlike kahi, it is not butter that is basted in between the layers but rather oil.
Therefore, it is traditionally served as a savory bread, with hard-boiled eggs and crushed tomatoes. However, it is not uncommon to enjoy it for breakfast with ghee and honey.
Msemmen is a type of crepe made with several layers of puff pastry that is found in Northern Africa. Just like kahi, it is served with honey and butter or filled with red bell peppers and tomatoes.
In Northern India, it is found under the name of paratha (parāṇṭhā). This flat and flaky bread is made of several layers of pastry and is also known as parauntha, palata, porota, forota, farata, parontay or prontha. Paratha is eaten during breakfast and is made with ghee.
In Southern India, parotta is the bread of choice. This flat bread with a flaky texture is different from paratha. It is eaten with savory dishes made with chicken, mutton or beef. It is generally cooked on a plate or in a pan. Like kahi, it is served lukewarm.
We hope that you will soon be tempted to try kahi. This simple recipe will without a doubt complements your Sunday breakfasts.
This recipe is validated by our expert in Iraqi cuisine Nawal Nasrallah. An award-winning researcher and food writer, Nawal is the author of the definitive cookbook on the Iraqi cuisine Delights from the Garden of Eden.
- 8 sheets filo dough
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons honey
- Qaymer (clotted cream)
Preheat oven to 375°F (180˚C).
- Brush each sheet of filo dough with butter and stack 4 by 4.
Fold each stack 2 or 3 times to create a rectangle about 3x2 inches (7x4 cm).
- Brush with butter and place on a baking sheet, lightly greased or lined with parchment paper.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until the dough is golden brown .
- Remove from the oven.
- Sprinkle generously with hot and warm honey and serve with qaymer (clotted cream).