Colorful Cuisine Survives Cultural Blackout

With Kababs supplanting hot dogs as the street food of the day in Manhattan, homemakers are ready for a comprehensive Persian cookbook with, for extra seasoning, humorous, historical and nostalgic vignettes.

I channel all things Persian, not only fine art and culture but also indelible memories from a thousand and one tales of a storied culture, all the way to the reality of present-day monochrome Iran.

My grandfather, who was an art consultant to the last shah of Iran, celebrated his Persian heritage through a lifetime of researching and collecting antiquities. He imparted his passion for Persia to me. At museums, I often exhibit collections of prehistoric pottery; cut glass bowls and ewers and bronze goblets; carved stones and engraved silverware, and intricate brocaded shawls and tribal carpets.

My mother, Pouri Anavian, a santour (Persian dulcimer and piano precursor) player and recording artist, has performed over 1,500 concerts. We often combine the music with a lecture and/or a fine dining experience of Persian delicacies.

We are a duo committed, with an almost missionary zeal, to sharing Persia with friends and neighbors in our adopted home of Japan.

At cultural centers I offer participatory workshops in Persian cuisine, introducing a wide variety of herbs and spices. At universities I present specific historical lectures with photos and slides. Since I flunked compulsory history in high school, I know there are plenty like myself who fall asleep or doodle in class. However, I’ve been making something delicious of history these days by presenting feasts based on ancient recipes.

The civilization of Iran circa 4000 B.C. started on the high Iranian plateau because of the abundance of melted snow. That enabled bedouins to tend to their flocks to make dairy products, start rice plantations and cultivate many vegetables and varieties of wild fruit.

 By 550 BC tribes had extended their borders to most of the Orient, where they settled and formed the largest empire in the world - Iran, or the Land of the Aryan Tribes, It included Central Asians, Armenians, Afghans, Indians and Pakistanis.  For 2,500 years Iran has always been the official name  of the Achaemenid Empire, with Parsa as its capitol.  The Greeks pronounced it Persia. As most history books at the time were written in Greek, Persia stuck. The first king of Persia/Iran, Cyrus the Great, established a magnificent palace called Persepolis (City of Parsa) a monument of tolerance and respect for all cultures and religions, unmatched anywhere in dynamism. Cyrus’s successor, Darius the Great, was an expansionist who spread the empire west to the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea, north to Central Asia and Russia, south to Egypt and east to India.

So, the cultural and culinary sphere represented here embraces Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Xinjiang of China, once known as East Turkestan of Persia. Greater Iran once comprised twenty-eight states. The empire was virtually the ‘United States of Iran’, as the suffix “stan” means “state”. What Iran stood for in ancient times is what the United States of America stands for today: tolerance for different religions, races, creeds and, by extension, cuisine. The founding philosophy was essentially the same.

Travelers and traders navigated the vast empire on ten-thousand kilometers of paved Royal Road, safe-guarded from bandits. Each region’s foodstuff was imported by all the states, thus enriching the cuisine, as travelers speedily transported edibles and communiques. The father of history, Herodotos said, no mortal thing travels faster than the Persian courier.

Persian cuisine is not limited to the boundaries of present-day Iran. At the hands of one foreign invader after another throughout a long history, the kingdom was whittled away and dissolved into desert dust by the Greeks in 2nd c. BC, Arabs in 7th c., Turks in 10th c., Mongols 12th c., Afghans 17th c. Each invader attempting to capture Iran ended up being captivated by Persian culture and cuisine. The storied civilization of Iran has been belittled, largely forgotten and reduced to becoming one of the most neglected and undervalued empires of all times. Iran, shrunk to its present size forms the shape of a little Persian cat.

However,  the cuisine, in all its diversity, has survived.

 During my cooking classes here in planet Japan, mute curiosity reigns. Historically, the legendary Silk Road linked Persia to Japan, the last station on the trail. I am often asked: Is Persian food Arab or European?

It takes ten minutes of meditative chewing before the students express their delightful surprise: “Hey, this is absolutely delicious. The spices are subtle, not too spicy or hot. The taste of the food is not buried in ketchup, sauce mixes or bottled dressings. The food tastes real”.

 These recipes work with a finicky crowd.

We often host parties the way our family did in our halcyon days in Tehran. My mother ornately designs the table using fruit, vegetables, flowers, leaves, branches, strings of pearls and candles, improvising the table setting so it is uniquely different every time. It is pastoral, lush, like her evocative santour melodies. To complement the recipes, we have recreated these tableaux in photos to capture their splendor for “1001 Magical Bites”.

I’d like to dish out some credit : to my mother for the food design; to Grandma Malka for her recipes and to my friends for their enthusiasm and open-mindedness.






痛くなれー、痛くなれー。 腹がよじれるまで、どうぞどうぞと勧める。



野 菜、果物、豆、香辛料、香草、肉の組み合わせで何百種類もの煮込み料理が出来上がってきました。トマトの器から顔出している煮込み料理 を「開け胡麻(ご ま)の煮込み料理」と名付けました。蓋を開くと宝石のような野菜が詰まった料理にゴマがふってあるからです。千夜一夜物語に登場するアリババと40人の盗 賊は、これに近いものを食べていたはずです。だから「胡麻」と言ったら、宝石いっぱいの盗掘の岩の扉が開いたのです。

ま た、千夜一夜物語では、柘榴料理が上手は王子さまが誘拐されてしまいます。遠い町の商店街の出店のキッチンで7年間ザクロ料理を作っていました。彼を探し 求めにきたお母さんがたまたまその料理を食べて、この味を出せるのは息子しかいないと気づき、王子様がキッチンに隠されていたことが発覚されます。この料 理は、イランでは有名で「フェセンジューン」と言います。ご飯にかけて食べます。




2 件のコメント:

  1. ダリアさん プーリーさん 昨日は素晴らしい演奏を有難う御座います。初めて見にする、耳にするサントウールの音色に感動しました。又お目にかかる日を楽しみにしております。FBの友達申請もよろしくお願いします。Yoshiko Nishioka

  2. 素敵なエッセイですね。


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