Cultural Restaurants in the Metro - ABC5 News Des Moines, IA

Cultural Restaurants in the Metro

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By: Sabrina Ahmed

The City of Des Moines is home to people from all over the world, many of whom hold their native cultures close to their heart, and chose Des Moines as the place to share where they come from through food.

First stop: The Latin King.

The Tursis have Italian down to a science. Their restaurant is a well-oiled machine.

"Our success for the Latin King is the owner being at the front door the majority of the evenings that we're open," Owner Bob Tursi said.

They've owned Tursi's Latin King for more than 30 years.  But the story of how they got here is a little less known.

"We were peasants in Southern Italy," Tursi explained.

Bob Tursi's family came to America for a better life, working the railroads, and construction, becoming more educated through generations.

"My father and uncle, they became tailors, and me being color blind, I went into the restaurant business," Tursi said.

In 1983, he and his wife Amy bought the restaurant that had already been open for almost 40 years.  They brought on long–time friend Patrick Morris to help open it..

"I told him I'd love to help him out but then I'd have to get on with my life," Morris said.  But thirty years later, "and here I am."

Morris runs the kitchen, though he went to school for business. It's been a learning process, to say the least.

"I've got the best playground in the world to figure things out," Morris said.

He also had a strong foundation to start with.  Loyal customers and good food.

"All of the basic recipes are the same, didn't change a thing, what I brought to the table is the Chicken Spanini," Morris said.

That's the top selling menu item, every single day.

"It's a Tuscan dish.  Everybody just loves it," Tursi said, explaining the Chicken Spanini.

Both Tursi and Morris said the keys to success are strong relationships with customers, and always serving a quality product.

"But we're never going to compromise on quality, and he'll never compromise on service, that's for sure," Morris said.

Tursi said the dreams of his family back in south Italy many years ago have come true.

"I'm living the American Dream," Tursi said.

Next Up: India Star

Parvinder Singh is known to people who come to his restaurant as "Baba".  He's spending his days in the kitchen making the food he grew up eating in Punjab, India.

"India is known for different kinds of spices, for years, for centuries," Baba said.

Intense flavors and aromas come out of this kitchen.  Turmeric, curry, cumin, cinnamon.  Baba's father started India Star seventeen years ago.

"That was my father's dream, he wanted to start a business," Baba said.

But Indian food wasn't very common in these parts back then, and his goal was to make coming to India Star not just about the food, but about the experience.

"It was a challenge.  Any by serving food, that was my goal too, to teach them a culture as well so they can know about Indian culture, through the food," Baba said. 

It's a trend that caught on.  And Baba has dedicated himself to broadening the horizons of Iowans, without sacrificing flavor.

"My father taught me, or I learned all of these years —you cannot compromise with the original recipes," Baba said.

He uses a Tandoori oven for bread much like those used by street vendors in India.  The bread, called naan, that comes out of here is delicious. But using this oven takes some skill.

Baba has stayed true to his culture, while opening doors for his children, so they, too, can succeed.

"I came here for opportunity, I think America give me that opportunity and I fulfilled my dreams," Baba said.

Finally: Irina's

Irina and her husband Demitri are Russian to the core.  They met in Sochi, and owned a restaurant there on the black sea that seated more than 500 people.

"The huge pool with the salt and fresh waters fish, which customers can go with the fish net and net out the fish for the dinner which they want, and the chefs going to prepare the fish for them," Irina said.

When they moved to the states, they wanted to try to give people a similar experience.

"We would love to have such a place here but, unfortunately, Des Moines' not quite ready for such an experience, so we try to do it on the smaller scale," she said.

That's how Irina's came to be. It's been at this location for eight years.  And that means they've had eight years to collect some of the best vodkas from around the world.

"In Russia, vodka is the main tradition," Irina said.  "So at this point, we have the biggest selection in the state of Iowa."

Demitri is the vodka connoisseur in this duo, and he can tell you anything you want to know about what's on this shelf.

Shots range anywhere from 6 dollars to 75, and Demitri said there's a big difference.

"It's distilled, not like usual vodka five or six times, it's distilled 159 times," he said.

Vodka also helps wash down the food during the meal.  It's served with bread and pickles. Sniff the bread, take the shot, eat the pickle, eat the bread.

"One two or three of those during the dinner very easily, and the good thing about them is they actually bring the metabolism up," Irina explained.

They even put vodka in the food!  And this food, well it's delicious.

"On a daily basis, we still have some Russian dishes in our menu, anywhere from the stuffed chicken, beef strogonov, chicken Kiev, shochlick, which is the pork kabob, Moscow filet," Irina said.

Irina and Demitri have one goal in having a restaurant here in Des Moines, and that's to please the people who have been so loyal to them over the years.

"Whatever you have in mind, we're going to accomplish it," she said.

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