In this last installment of docu posts about my super sweet Trip to Kermanshah, I really wanted to give you a mouthwatering, lusty tour of all the yummy food I ate during this visit. Everything from the Kermanshahi classic stew of khalal ghaimeh va zereshk (almond & barberry with cubed meat stew) to the spectacular Persian rib kabab (dandeh kabab) we devoured after touring tagh bostan, to gojeh sabz (unripe green plums) to all the toothsome shirini Kermanshahi (boxes and boxes) I got to take and I had to savor. However, somehow or other, I managed to either neglect to take photos or when I did, I took mostly blurry or poorly lit or horribly composed photos. You won’t need to scold me as I’ve already had a stern, scalding talk with myself (“one more mess up like this, buster, and you will be turning in your food blogger badge, doing a 100 push ups, making 100 servings of piyaz dagh without a break, and ruing the day you started a food blog.”) I promise, I shall know better from now on. This terrible mistake will not happen again.
That said, I hope you’ll still enjoy this as-is tour de food of Kermanshah, Iran. (Aside: I was rather pleased with myself for thinking up that “tour de food” phrase — I never have claimed to be forootan, have I — but Dr. Google busted my chops once again by shrugging and saying “Meh! So what! So have a gazillion other people.” Hmmmf! Doctor Google may be smart and all but he could certainly employ a kinder less artist-killer bedside manner.)
In any event, let’s commence our lusty oftentimes blurry foodie tour of Kermanshah shall we? Rolah jan, berim روله جان بریم as one might say in = the Kermanshah dialect!
Well to begin with, consider the cover photo of the Persian fruit roll up. These are called “lavashak” and they come in a variety of colors and flavors, depending on what type of fruit or mixtures of fruits has been used in its creation. Super popular as a snack, specially with kids, lavashak is sold in supermarkets and bazaars and delis all over Iran, but of course, some households make their own. One of those households being that of my cousin Roshanak, who is in the practice of making lavashak with all kinds of fruit from apricots to black plums to red mulberries, such as the one pictured above. It was so good! Akh! Ooof! My mouth is watering thinking about it.
Let’s move on before I drown in a pool of drool!
Hi y’all! I’m finally back from my epic (I kid you not) trip to Iran!
Well, actually, I’ve been back for a good few weeks by now but (thanks to a sluggish combination of jetlag, a bout of being blue about leaving Iran, and writer’s block) it has taken me awhile to slide into the old blogging groove.
The writer’s block is certainly not due to a dearth of interesting things to report and share with you – the reverse in fact – I have so many stories, pix and videos to share. Instead, this has been more of a challenge of mustering motivation and focus. Kind of like standing in front of a fully stocked fridge and pantry — bursting with all sorts of delicious and exotic ingredients — and wondering: “But what should I make? What shall I make?” And in the frustrating process of indecisive, perfectionist (and I admit, lethargic) hand-wringing, ending up going hungry and involuntarily fasting!
But I do intend to snap out of this and tell you all about my glorious and controversial homeland of Iran – a most paradoxical country – and share tales of what was an intense and significant personal milestone of a trip. I experienced deep highs and crushing lows; climbed many hills and mountains (literally!); traveled to a number of cities; reconnected with friends and family and foe; enjoyed generous Persian hospitality, renewed relationships, fostered friendships, forged bonds, severed ties; basked in the innate poetic beauty of Iran and its culture, and cringed at the things that one must bear; saw and experienced things that made me glad, wistful, ecstatic, dreamy, nervous, enthralled, angry, happy, ashamed, proud, mad, deeply nostalgic, oft enchanted and sometimes profoundly sad; and of course enjoyed enviably good and yummy food that had me drooling and smacking my lips! Oh, the delicious things I ate and drank!
I do hope to do this trip justice and recount and share it all with you in a meaningful and hopefully thoughtful way – including a few choice recipes – via a series of posts in the coming weeks and months, but I admit that I’m not yet entirely in the groove of being up to that task just yet.
So, to gently break the blogging fast, I thought it’d be both naughty (because it may torture you!) and nice to indulge in yet another lusty tour of the very many good things I had to eat and taste and savor when I was traveling in Iran. (In case you missed the earlier ones, here’s the first Lusty Food Tour of Iran and here’s another one.)
And here it goes, part 3 of “Eating my Way in Iran” for your torturous pleasure:
These two yummy batches of Sholeh Zard (a traditional Iranian dessert made with rice, saffron and rosewater) were made by my friend Afooli for her Norooz party. Another time, my friend Haleh also specifically made it for me as well, so that I could photograph and document the recipe. I will post the recipe very soon. Promise!
Jello desserts were quite popular in my childhood and I was surprised to see that they are still going strong in Iran. Usually served along with either ice cream or fruit.
To avoid the too common travail of jumping up a few sizes after a trip to Iran, I tried to cautiously indulge and mostly succeeded in this endeavor, but tried as I might, I could NOT resist inhaling stacks of freshly made hot-out-of-the-oven koloocheh (a most wonderful and soft Persian pastry that is pillowy soft with a sweet center) whenever I got my greedy paws on some. And: je ne regrette rien! In fact, I only regret that I did not eat more of them! Mental note: Make some using Maria’s awesome kooloocheh recipe ASAP.
Oh sweet merciful cream and puff pastries! Needless to say: I miss these guys too! A lot!
And I still get goosebumps at the memory of my first taste of faloodeh va bastani – a dessert composed of starchy noodle threads combined with traditional Persian (usually called Akbar Mashdi) ice cream (that has chunks of solid crunchy cream! say what!) and served with a topping of freshly squeezed lemon juice – that my friends Afooli joon and Hossein served at their Norooz party.
The combo of textures (soft, mildly chewy and starchy, crunchy) and flavors (sweet, pleasently bland, tangy) was an intoxicating close-your-eyes and savor your life pleasure! Perfection!
In conclusion: boy, did I miss y’all and I’m happy to be back, and please bear with me while I catch up and get back into the groove. Before signing off, I have to give a huge howdy and thank you to all of you who kept in touch and kept reading and commenting and to all of you wonderful friends who wrote the guest posts that helped me keep this blog humming along even while I was frolicking and traipsing around in my homeland. Thank you!
Till soon & Happy Weekend
This post was written while I travel in Iran.
One night, a few weeks ago, my friends and I ended up eating dinner at a hopping (not fancy but well-known and well-loved) self-service restaurant in the heart of Tehran. Picture a huge salon with a seemingly endless aromatic array of all types of Persian food (you name it) which could be had simply by pointing – a dazzling and dizzying and enticing spectacle for sure but I nevertheless managed to keep my wits about me and remained mindful of taking a few pix for posterity.
This particular gentleman, the head chef, was (as you can see) quite agreeable regarding having his picture taken.
But this other assistant chef/server is giving me a scorching look like nobody’s business. Although, if I squint, I find his expression oddly enigmatic. A Persian Mona Lisa!
Now a note of warning: if you ever make it to Tehran, do not go to this restaurant when you are very hungry. Because you will inevitably pile your tray with a tremendous amount of food.
But they all look so delicious! Must. Eat. Everything!
And pile up the food we did! There were only 3 of us for dinner but we got enough food to feed a good number more.
And because I know you want to know, I am duty bound to tell you what’s what in each tray.
Top left tray contained the following goodies: mixed veggies; torshi (Persian pickles); fava bean rice (baghali polo) with lamb shank (mahicheh); and a can of an obscure beverage called Coca Cola.
Top right tray contained: ash reshteh, a big salad; yogurt with raisins, cucumber and walnuts; and an entree made with tongue (khorakeh zaban.)
As for this bottom tray, it belonged to a greedy but very happy person, and I will let you guess who that person may have been.
Let’s identify the delicious edibles clockwise from the top: a bowl of spinach and yogurt; a beautiful cherry rice with the thickest most wonderful tadig you could possibly want; a tray with a combo of jojeh kabab (grilled chickent) and kabab ‘e barg (lamb kabab); and for good measure — lest this greedy person might not be entirely sated afterall — also a bowl of delicious kashk bademjoon (eggplant and whey dish) topped with fried, dried mint.
It all looked good and all of it tasted from delicious to very delicious, save for the jojeh and lamb kabab, which were lackluster, alas, and ended up as fare for the cute and coddled family pet.
And that, my friends, was just one night and one meal.
I have not even begun to tell you about the marvels of the various types of Iranian bread. Like this “barbarri” bread.
But that is a topic worthy of its own post, so on that mouth-watering note, I take my leave. And because someone (hi Tina!) asked in the comments of an earlier post (which I’m sorry but I really can’t respond to the comments for various reasons): I DO still fit in my clothes. It is a true Persian miracle! (Also, if you missed it, do check out the earliest Lusty Pictorial Tour of Food in Iran.)
This is a lunch I had by myself at a tiny kabab and halim establishment. I got a window seat decorated with the Norooz trappings of sabzeh and goldfish and hyacinth and ordered the Kabab that came with grilled tomatoes nestled inside two generously sized, soft and stretchy layers of freshly-baked-on-the-premise taftoon bread. What a luxury! I also had yogurt – a “whole fat” one – that really hit the spot. I pretty much ate this entire meal with my fingers: tearing off pieces of bread, making a sandwich with a piece of kabab then adding a dollop of whole fat yogurt. So satisfactory. So yummy. I was very hungry and this food was very tasty and I confess I polished most of it off. You can’t say you blame me.
As I’ve been saying, I only had 3 short days in Kermanshah, but it was one of those trips where every minute counted and was quality — either fun, poignant, intriguing or drole, and often a wonderful combination of all of the above. In this penultimate post in the Trip to Kermanshah series I’ll take you with me to visit the two major historical attractions of Bisotun and Tag-e Bustan.
On an overcast afternoon, me and cousin Roshanak and Mr. S and Amoo Fereidoon drove to Bisotun. It was nearly an hour long drive but we had a lot of fun. I videotaped some of it, see below. Since it’s not dubbed into English, I’ll tell you the context:
We were discussing the abundance of Muhammadi roses in Roshanak’s house and I asked Amoo Fereidoon to describe how to make rosewater. Amoo readily started talking about the golab making process, using an old fashioned Kermanshahi word (‘”miyan” instead of ‘vassat’ to refer to “in the middle”) that promptly had Roshanak dissolving into peals of laughter. Then the talk turns to the ancient statue of Herculus at Bisotun and what’s happened to it (i.e the nude statue’s immodesty was covered in the period after the revolution and at some point Herculus was sadly beheaded but its head was later replaced) and that made all of us start laughing as well. What is not documented in the video and what I just remembered with a jolt of pleasure and also a pang of covetous cognition of absence, was that Roshanak had brought along a huge box of assorted shirini Kermanshahi and lots of fruit for us to snack on our little fun road trip. It was such a good wholesome time! Simple things in life, people, simple things, those are the ones that count when you come right down to it.
Once we arrived at the massive car park area of Bisotun it was drizzly so Amoo Fereidoon stayed put in the car and took a power nap while Roshanak and Mr. S and I went and hiked and saw all the sights of this majestic mountain bearing historic traces of ancient Persia … passing by the aforementioned 480 BC era Hercules; the “Farhad Tarash” parts of the mountain where the rocks are made smooth because as legend goes that crazy-in-love (or plain crazy) Farhad chipped at the mountains in the besotted hopes of winning Shirin’s love; and the gorgeous cliffs with world-famous bas relief and inscriptions dating back to Darius The Great’s time.
I’ll leave detailed info about the site and its history between you and Mr. Google but will tell you that Bisotun was registered in UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites in 2006.
Here are some pix:
The legend goes that the Farhad the Stonecutter (Farhad Tarash) in love with Princess Shirin (who did return his love) was tasked by her father the king with creating a canal in the mountains to gain permission for her hand. This huge smooth rock face part of Bisotun mountains – popular with climbers – is allegedly proof of this legend. The story of Farhad and Shirin is riveting and (spoiler alert!) it has a Rome & Juliet ending. Here’s link to a very nicely narrated account of Shirin & Farhad: A Persian Love Story.
I don’t have any pix of the Darius the Great bas relief at Bisotun (I took it in instead of clicking away on the phone) so we might as well get in the car and drive to Taq-e Bustan, the other major historical site covered that day.
We drove to Tag e Bostan, in a race with the sun, arriving just before the sunset, and took in the beauty of this classic attraction of Kermanshah. I very much missed my father while I was there and hoped that he himself would one day soon return to this site which as my Amoo and dokhtar amoo described has long been a favorite family hangout.
Sassanian era bas reliefs set inside and around alcoves carved into the majestic Tag Bostan mountains, a historic attraction that is surrounded by popular open air restaurants and a boating pond, was the final leg of my second day of sightseeing odyssey in Kermanshah.
And here’s another video below, offering a glimpse of Tag Bostan and the surrounding boat pond … excuse the wobbliness, and please do excuse the high decible screetch of yours truly. I am loud, I realize with dismay! Note to self: pipe it down, dude!
Here’s how the day ended:
After duly seeing the sights at Tagh Bostan, we grabbed a wickedly good dandeh kabab (Persian rib BBQ served with bread, oh my gosh so yummy I can’t even begin to tell you, jayeh hamatoon khalli) and called it a night. A very good night.
Stay tuned for the final installment of the Trip to Kermanshah series when I take a lusty tour of all the yummy food I had to eat there.
Your Faithful Blogger
During my epic trip to Iran last year, I mostly stayed in Tehran, the cosmopolitan capital of the country and the city of my childhood, but luckily I got to make several memorable short forays into a few other cities as well: I visited Esfehan (nesfe jahan) with my fabulous Khaleh Farzie; went to Yazd with Haleh, my dear childhood/family friend; visited my vivacious aunt in Shiraz; went to the holy city of Ghom with my uncle; took a short and sweet road trip jaunt to the Caspian sea with good friends where we stayed in a beautiful villa and explored the amazing wonders of the Babolsar food market; and near the end of this truly epic and sentimental journey to my homeland, I also went and visited my father’s side of the family in Kermanshah.
Each trip had its own indelible charm and memories, forging stronger and stronger my deep love for Iran, but it was the visit to kermanshah and spending time reconnecting with my paternal family there — each of whom were kinder and warmer than the next — that had me in tears when I had to leave to go back to Tehran.
Family connection and emotional sentimentality aside, Kermanshah is a region of Iran steeped in history and boasting of both natural beauty and cultural attractions — the historical sights, the Grand Bazaar, the drop-dead-gorgeous mountains, and oh yeah, the amazing food — that makes it a natural destination for anyone traveling to Iran.
Throughout nearly the entire duration of the flight to Kermanshah from Tehran, I had my face pressed and practically glued to the airplane window … staring down at the land that lay below, unable or unwilling to peel away my gaze, and feeling … so much love. So. Much. Love. But also feeling sad. Feeling very very verklempt.
I don’t know how to explain it, except that the topography laying below me was not generic to me. I found it inherently dear, I found it … painfully beautiful. I mean both words (painful and beautiful) sincerely. Kind of like The Little Prince and his rose. These mountains weren’t any old mountains. They were MY mountains. You see.
Or perhaps you don’t see. I’m not being very articulate!
What I will do, however, is do my best to articulate many of the highlights of my trip to Kermanshah. Starting tomorrow, I will have posts sharing with you photos and memories from my short and sweet visit to Kermanshah with the hopes that you’ll enjoy the peek at this beautiful city in Iran, and in the spirit of inspiring you to make plans to go for a visit yourself. One day. Some day! Why not?
Kermanshah, “The Land of History & Myths”; “The Land of Eternal Lovers”; “The Land of Shirin & Farhad”, the land of LOL trees (see below, ha!) is very much worth a visit.
So my friends, coming up in back-to-back posts for your perusing pleasure, expect the tales, anecdotes, pix and high jinx accounts of the following:
So khoda hafez for now and see you tomorrow! Basheh? Basheh!
Let’s fire up that samovar and brew some fragrant tea (or chayee as we say in Farsi) for this second installment of “Drinking in Iran” — a photo-essay series that documents some of the tasty drinks aka nooshidani yours truly had to sip, gulp, swig, imbibe, devour, knock back, taste, or merely gaze at covetously during my sentimental, epic trip to Iran; and that in the bargain, attempts to explore the people and culture of Iran and share some travel stories with you as well!
So grab some habe ‘ye ghand (sugar cubes) or something equally sweet, kick back, and let’s enjoy some good old fashioned chayee, Persian style!
Tea is the most common, ubiquitous drink in Iran. Whether in someone’s home, in a stall in the bazaar, or in the kitchen of the House of the Artists (aka khaneh ye Honarmandan), there’s always a kettle or samovar gently boiling and bubbling and dreamily humming; and there’s always a pot of tea either being made or a cup of tea being sipped. That’s just the way it goes.
This samavar and tea service are on display at what used to be the kitchen compound of the Pahlavi Dynasty’s summer palace (Sa’ad Abad Palace – in the northern part of Tehran) which has now been turned into a museum. Note the special type of glass tea cups – which we call ‘estekan’ — and the pair of sugar cubes next to the estekan.
Tea may be a global beverage – entirely commonplace – but drinking tea in Iran is made less ordinary because of the nicety of the associated rituals – such as the touches of sweets served alongside with this familiar beverage.
Sugar cubes are the most common and traditional way to sweeten tea. The old-fashioned way (but not chic, darling!) of having sugar cubes with tea is not to stir and dissolve it but to bite and suck the sugar cube between one’s teeth while taking sips of tea. It’s kind of fun to do but the sound effects and required facial mannerisms make it clear why the practice is frowned-upon-in-elegant-society. I like my tea with milk and no sugar (blashphemy, I know) but if I did like my tea sweet, I wouldn’t have minded occasionally practicing this method on the sly in private to my heart’s content. Elegance be damned!
As a guest in someone’s home, there are many dainty ways to sweeten the tea. Like this tea served with sparkly homemade ‘tut’ (Persian marzipaln mulberries) that I got to enjoy during a Persian new year ‘did va bazdid‘ visit with my lovely friend’s elegant family. (Note the beautiful antique silver spoon!)
Better grab that estekan ‘eh chayee while it’s nice and hot!
In a trendy café, chayee may be served on a cute tray with nabat and almond cookies.
In Shiraz, a festive meal in a garden with live music (while seating and eating cross-legged family style on a kilim-covered wooden platform) culminated – to my heart’s delight – with a tray laden with assorted sweets and an adorable ersatz tea pot adorned with the portrait of a grumpy mustachioed Qajar royal gent.
A typical sweet served with tea is nabat, aka rock candy. These days, nabat is served on a stick (much like a lollipop) that one dunks in the tea (a modern iteration of an old-fashioned idea) and stirs until it dissolves. A charming way to sweeten one’s tea.
This was at the lake front cafeteria of the very scenic Park ‘e Melat (formerly Park ‘e Shah ‘anshahee.)
Sometimes it was not the nabat (rock candy) but the charming sweetness of the company that made the tea special. Like meeting (for the first time in real life!) the lovely Simi, fellow Iranian food blogger and now dear friend in a trendy Tehrani café at (Bagh ‘eh Ferdows) Ferdows Garden. [The Full account of meeting Simi and another lovely Persian food blogger friend in Tehran coming up one of these days!]
While I’m at it, may as well add this photo of yours truly (in the middle) sandwiched between gorgeous family friends. This was also at Bagh ‘eh Ferdows, but in the front garden.
Sometimes it was the company, the kooloocheh and the scenery that made even a weak tea-bag-brew an unforgettable cuppa’ for the books!
This was on the way back to Tehran after a road trip to shomal – the beautiful Caspian sea region.
Sometimes, tea with lemon was just a utilitarian workhorse.
The only way to chase a rich breakfast of kaleh pacheh! (I may have mentioned this already, but kaleh pacheh was the very first thing I had to eat when I arrived in Iran. At the crack of dawn! It was awesome! )
And sometimes tea with lemon with a friend in a garden blooming with fragrant honeysuckles in the ancient city of Yazd was nothing short of magical … a tangible ode to the dizzying perfection of a moment in life. Sip, sip, sip! I’ll drink to that!
Until we next meet, wishing you the perfectly brewed perfect-temperature tea with the au juste sweet pairing.
For now, khoda hafez!
Here’s how the Persianizing popcorn idea came to be:
I’d like to lose 10 pounds. This is not for health reasons, I confess. I’m fit, in fair shape, and knock wood, no health problems. It is, I confess again, for combined reasons of vanity and comfort: I like how I look and feel when I’m a tad bit lighter. Now, losing weight is not a unique or laudable goal by any means but it is a fine goal so far as those things go. In any event, it is my goal. So, again: fine. But the problem is that as much as I like to lose these 10 pesky ponds, I am a shekamoo. I really, really like to eat. D’uh. I have a food blog! And if you’re reading here, I don’t need to tell you how amazing and awesome food is. In fact, certainly one iteration of heaven might be that it’s a place where you’ll get to eat anything and everything you want, as much as you want, without any consequences. Glory be! Amen!
I have a treasure trove of pictures and stories to share from my recent epic trip to Iran and while I’ve been remiss in diligently posting those, I’m getting the wheels spinning by starting this series of “Iranian People” — where I’ll share pictures of the everyday average ordinary Iranians that I hung out with, met, befriended, or otherwise engaged with during my trip. Just ordinary Iranians, doing ordinary things. Such as, for example: laughing, smiling, or otherwise displaying a glimmer of a sense of humor! Ah: those tricky tricky Persians! I tell ya!
I can’t help but smile every time I look at this cover photograph. I love this little girl so much! Her name is Arezoo and she is smart, funny, cute, brainy, girly-girly to the max, opinionated, charming, fierce and sweet; and she’s part of a family that’s dear and close to mine and I got to finally meet her when I was in Tehran during my Iranian Odyssey.
One time, my friends Haleh and Laila (Arezoo’s auntie and mommy, respectively) picked me up, took me to their home (after we’d first gone for an early morning hike and breakfast up in the mountains with their entire family, but that’s another story altogether) and they cooked up a storm — making some of their specialties, so that I could photograph it and share the recipes with you. A few times, yours truly got up on a chair to take overhead shots of the food (which as many of you know, is par for course in food blogging territory.) Mimicking my actions, Arezoo also got up on a chair and started taking photos – proving that sometimes, imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery. I was charmed!
And I’ve heard – to my delighted amusement – that these days she still does this when mommy or auntie or grandma cook. Ha ha, a food blogger in the making! (Note to Arezoo joon: email me the pictures! I’ll post them! ps: You are the cutest! Love you!)
This is my friend Haleh, and here are two pix I snapped of her when we met up one sunny spring day at the Seyhoun Art Gallery in Tehran — where I was interviewing the owner of the gallery. (At the time, Seyhoun gallery had Reza Afasari‘s solo “Sealed Letters to Myself” painting exhibition.) Afterwards, Haleh took me to the House of the Artists (an art hub in the middle of a beautiful Persian garden) where we checked out lots of artwork; had a very nice lunch where I tried a tamarind drink for the first and probably last time in my life, and we almost went to see a rooftop staging of a play as well but left that for another day. Later on, Haleh and I also ended up taking a short memorable trip to Yazd together that was a blast. Getting a chance to finally see and hang out with this lovely childhood friend was one of the immense pleasures and rewards of this trip.
Mind you, I’m touching lightly on all these various topics (Iranian artists, the interview, art galleries in Tehran, trip to Yazd, rekindled friendships, etc.) but definitely hope to write at length about each.
Before moving on to the next photo, please do observe how my friend’s scarf is perfectly kept in place. Seemingly held by invisible fairies? The women in Iran had techniques — defying the laws of physics and gravity and slipperiness — which enabled them to wear their headscarf just so and have it remain in place. Meanwhile, yours truly had to fuss and muss and ineptly do and re-do my scarf’s knot or else pull it forward as it slipped at every opportune and inopportune moment.
Now I have a few more stories and pix from my Iranian odyssey coming up in just a bit and right below, but first, I’m going to go on a tangent and get on a soap box. TLDR? (No, no, please stay and do read!) Here, have some yummy Persian food served by this poised and friendly Iranian chef at a popular self-service restaurant in Tehran to fortify you while I take a teeny tiny detour and rant a bit.
The Tangent and the Soapbox
Even though I go on and on around here chirping about the beauty and glory of the Persian food and culture and people like a naively oblivious Disney cartoon character, I’m keenly aware that for an awful lot of folks their mental image of Iran and Iranians comes from the mass media and if so, they probably harbor extremely negative ideas about the country and its people. Aside from a desire to preserve my lovely mom’s recipes, the main reason I started this blog and have had the motivation to merrily chug along is an attempt to do my bit in helping balance a frustratingly tilted perception that at best is myopic, and at worst, is dangerously unfair to a culture that is ancient and remains a rich and beautiful one and to a people that are friendly, hospitable, and nice (just ask Anthony Bourdain!) thus leading to (excuse my language) ignorant yet sadly prevalent prejudice. Ignorance such as some people even actually wondering: Do Iranians have a sense of humor? Do Iranians laugh?
If you think those are absurd questions I can only say that I wish it were so. A year or so ago, I was listening to a podcast Dinner Party Download (one of my very favorite radio programs – you should totally check out their episodes) interview with Marjan Satrapi — the artist and filmmaker behind Persepolis — the groundbreaking autobiograhical graphic novel series and the Oscar-nominated animated film — where she mentioned how someone once came up to her and said that before reading her books she didn’t think that Iranians had a sense of humor or laughed. Here’s a transcript of that part of the segment:
Dinner Party Download: Turning to Iran and the way it’s perceived by people, Westerners, me included, we typically hear very little about Iran. What do you find about Iran that people are surprised by?
Marjan Satrapi: In a book tour an old lady who read one of my books came up to me and said: ‘oh, you know, I’m no longer scared of the Iranian people,’ and I said “how come?” and she said: “because I didn’t know that you could laugh that you had any sense of humor.” … You know, they’ve made it that we are these people that … when we’re talking about Iran it’s either beard, veil, or it’s nuclear weapon. And that reduces us to abstract notions and we stop being human being and if you’re not a human being then of course you don’t laugh and of course you don’t fall in love and of course you don’t like to eat ice cream and … which is dangerous because from the second that people become abstract notions then they are not human beings anymore and we can go and bomb them so I don’t try to change the world with my film but if they can say this country that you are so scared of is the same country a man died because of the love of a woman I think that I’ve done what I had to do …. I don’t want more than that.
I love how she answered this question with emotion, intelligence, and understated passion. It honestly gives me goosebumps! I am of the same school who believes change and progress comes with art and artists and the banding together and communication between us civilian normal people. Do go and give Episode #164 of The Dinner Party a listen. It’s quite fun and funny actually and totally worth it. (The Satrapi interview segment starts at the 13:25 mark. There’s also a priceless interview with the delightfully grumpy Fran Lebowitz in this same podcast which you truly do not want to miss.)
And with that, end of tangent. Stepping down the soap box. Back to our regular programming! With pretty pictures and me chirping per usual! 🙂
So, this is a photo of the artist Rasoul Akbarlou posing in front on one of his beautiful calligraphy artworks – at the opening reception of his exhibit at Mah Art Gallery where he graciously allowed me to take his picture. This photo does not do justice to his artwork, which I was not alone in my group in finding stunningly beautiful.
There are lots of art galleries in Tehran and every other Friday, many have their “eftetahi” – that is art opening receptions. Some Tehroonies have a fun ritual of making the rounds of these art opening shindigs: for the art, for the social factor, and for the free yummies served. Oooh, the pix and tales I have and plan to share with you – including the interesting story of how and in whose company I ended up in this gallery! Meanwhile, borrow two legs (remember that Persian proverb) and run and go read this wonderful article about the art scene in Tehran, by the editor of Reorient Online Magazine.
And let’s finally conclude this LONG post with these two awesome and wonderful smiley Persian dudes:
So one day a friend and I headed all the way to a far-flung neighborhood on a rather intriguing fact-finding mission that ultimately led to a heartbreaking discovery. In contrast to the rather depressing conclusion, the neighborhood itself was quite lively and interesting and I was loathe to leave and would have loved to explore its nooks and crannies but my friend and I had to go to another far-flung corner of Tehran.
Just before we were to get into a cab, I noticed this kaleh pacheh food establishment and the very friendly owner and his assistant and asked if I could their picture. They readily and gamely agreed with enthusiasm. Let’s face it: they were hams! I believe we may have all indulged in a fit of giggles as well, as though we were experiencing something hilarious! It was a fun moment in time.
And with that, doostaneh khob, lovely people, thus concludes the first part of this series – my travel pictorial of “Iranian People” — which I hope helps answer questions such as: who the heck are these Eyeraynians and do they even know how to crack a smile? Answer: Some do!
Boos Boos & Have a lovely weekend!
Hello lovely reader! Welcome to Fig & Quince! My cozy little Iranian-American corner of the Internet where I tell stories and wax poetic about Persian food and the people and culture of Iran.
I share my family recipes and all the tools and tricks of Iranian cooking with you here because it’s my passionate mission to show you how to make good and authentic Persian food — with a modern spin and with creative twists. I’m equally driven by the fondest desire to do what I can to balance the myopic portrayal of my homeland and to promote a better understanding of Iran and Iranians.
Most recent and major bragging right is cooking fesenjan for the New York Times for a Sunday Magazine cover article about Diverse Holiday Feasts From Five New York Families. Fig & Quince’s fesenjan recipe then went on to make it on New York Times food editor Sam Sifton’s Most Popular Recipes, 2014! Thank you Maman joon for teaching me how to cook and passing on your stellar khoresh ‘e fesenjoon recipe. Persian food rules!
Food is the indelible vehicle of memory. I write about food with nostalgia and longing and yearnings … with words that have meanings beyond their names and evoke images of snow-capped mountains, cypress trees, and samavars gurgling brewing tea. Words that breeze with the smell of honeysuckles, orange blossoms and ghormeh sabzi; bringing back memories of climbing mulberry trees, swimming in the Caspian sea, and sitting impatiently around the haft seen table with the gold fish and hyacinth and gold coins and green sprouts, counting down the slow moving minutes till winter ended and Norooz began — finally! Culinary tales that sometimes make me feel the touch of my grandmother’s hand caressing my head in her lap while patiently reciting for me, once again, the fairy tales of the Girl with the Silvery Moon Forehead and the Daughters of Narenj and Toranj.
Food is the edible expression of a culture! And Iranian food is poetic, captivating, and enchantingly delicious! Let’s dig in!
About Me: Your Faithful Blogger
I am an Iranian-American and a (self-diagnosed) late-bloomer with eclectic interests: art, literature, design, law and technology chief among them. I have 2 law degrees. I have passed 3 bar exams. I am nearly trilingual. I love toy robots and graffiti. I enjoy books and words and language and wordplay. I’m addicted to podcasts. I’m ardent, earnest, flawed and full of ideas. I illustrate. I write. I Blurb. I lecture about Persian food and I give cooking classes. I once gave a talk about why Jane Eyre would have loved social media! I am a story teller. I love food. I love to eat. I cook. I blog: therefore, I am!
I recently went back to Iran for the first time after nearly 3 decades because I was so homesick I thought I was going to burst and die. I stayed for nearly 3 months. I feasted my eyes on the snow-capped mountains of Alborz, I stayed in Tehran, the city of my birth and childhood and I traveled to Yazd, Shiraz, Kermanshah, Isfahan and the Caspian sea; I visited old friends and family and made new friends; I went to chic art galleries and cafes and ancient mosques and bazaars and palaces; I went and cried at the graves of my grandparents; and I ate and ate and ate! It was a significant and sentimental journey poignant in more ways that I can articulate, and I call it: #My Epic Trip To Iran! I have given a couple of “show and tell” talks about this homesick trip to Iran (here and here) and I plan to take this show on the road! So: stay tuned!
Ultimately, what I’m all about is this: Persian food is amazing and Iranian culture is rich and I’m brimming over with passion about sharing my recipes and stories with you.
Let’s Keep in Touch!
If you want to just say hi, or, if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or lucrative proposals to turn me into an overnight sensation, please do not hesitate to contact me! I am also available for freelance writing and graphic design & illustration assignments. Whatever the reason may be, I would be delighted to hear from you! Here’s my contact info:
Now, Let’s Meet the Other Cooks!
When my mother was a university student as well as a bright-eyed bride all of 21, she bought a cookbook to fill in the gaps of her cooking. When she left Iran, this cookbook (a tattered copy of which exists to this day – someone alert The Smithsonian!) was among the few things she brought to her new home in the U.S. Lucky for all those destined to eat at her table, my mother turned out to be a wonderful cook. As we say in Farsi: dastesh namak dareh – which literally translates to “her hands have salt.” I learned how to cook from my mom and all the recipes that I share here, unless otherwise specified, are ones that she taught me. She continues to teach and inspire me about food and food styling.
My maman joon is also a self-taught artist. If you’d like, you can check out her collage cutout Blurb Books.
A charming little fellow, let’s call him Felfeli, has also agreed to grace Fig & Quince with select if rather rare guest appearances. We are honored and could not be more delighted! (See him seeding a pomegranate Persian style, like a champ! Juicing a pomegranate in the nifty Persian “ablamboo” style. And here: soaking and washing rice grains to make Persian rice.)
A keen connoisseur of Persian cooking, Felfeli is particularly partial to āsh (thick soups), and also counts lobiya polo (green bean mixed rice), khoresh gheimeh (French fries stew as he calls it), khoresh fesenjoon (walnut and pomegranate stew) and of course tahdigh (crispy bottom-of-rice) among his favorites. He will eat sabzi khordan (mixed fresh herbs which is a permanent side dish of all Persian lunches and dinners) when he is 5 years old and not a day earlier -so please- do not offer him some until that momentous day is upon us.
Felfeli is way into dinosaurs, helicopters, numbers, bunnies, and rainbows.
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