No­body does meat on a stick bet­ter than Ira­ni­ans, but clas­sic Persian food is about much more, in­clud­ing earthy to el­e­gant stews, Mike Peters dis­cov­ers.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

It was nutty. It was sweet. It was sour. It was… amaz­ing. When food­ies dis­cover a new dish, we reach for easy com­par­isons. The phrase “It tastes like chicken” has be­come a joke ever since some­one tried to de­scribe tast­ing rat­tlesnake for the first time.

How­ever, when I met my first bowl of fe­s­en­jen in the an­cient Persian city of Esfahan sev­eral years ago, I was com­pletely stumped.

I in­haled the steam com­ing off the rich, meaty stew and scooped a fra­grant mound on­tomy fork.

A huge smile wreathed my face.

Eight min­utes later, the bowl was empty — and my note­book was blank, too. I couldn’t begin to de­scribe it.

Eight years later, the rich stew of pomegranate paste, wal­nuts and chicken lingers in palate­mem­ory, re­call­ingo­neof my fa­vorite cities in the world.

Lo­cated in cen­tral Iran, Es­fa­hanisafairy-talecity­of­blue-andyel­low tiled walls, mag­nif­i­cent bridges and tran­quil parks swarm­ing­with pic­nick­ers.

It was built around the im­mense Naqsh-e-Ja­han (Imam) Square by the bril­liant Shah Ab­bas I (Ab­bas the Great, 1587-1629), who­took­theSafavid em­pireto it­s­peakand­launched a new flow­er­ing of Persian cul­ture. Ab­bas made Esfahan into a ma­jor Silk Road hub for traders in silk, spices, gold, sil­ver and porce­lain. He built his cap­i­tal in an ar­chi­tec­tural spree per­haps only ri­valed by China’s Em­peror Zhu Di, who moved his cap­i­tal from Nan­jing to Bei­jing, and be­gan con­struc­tion in 1406on­what­would­be­comethe For­bid­den City.

Esfahan is so grand, it was once renowned as “half of the world”.

Robert By­ron, au­thor of the 1937 trav­el­ogue The Road to Ox­i­ana, hailed Esfahan as “among those rarer places, like Athens or Rome, which are the com­mon re­fresh­ment of hu­man­ity”.

I sus­pect he had just eaten Persian food when he wrote the words.

For many food lovers who want to ex­plore a for­eign cui­sine, the best an­swer is to go out to eat with a na­tive of the coun­try in ques­tion.

To find out what restau­rant has the best tra­di­tional Persian food in Bei­jing, how­ever, dining with an Ira­nian can some­times add to your con­fu­sion.

For ex­am­ple, Ira­nian fans of near neigh­bors Rumi and Perse­po­lis, lo­cated in the cap­i­tal’s ex­pat haven of San­l­i­tun, are sharply di­vided on the ques­tion — though most have eaten at both places.

Some of the is­sues are more cul­tural than culi­nary: The ven­er­a­ble seven-year-oldRumi


From left: A lamb and egg­plant stew topped with shred­ded pota­toes, lamb shank with broad bean and dill rice, and panirsabzi, a salad of fresh basil and mint with radishes, scal­lions and cheese, all from Rumi Grill in Bei­jing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.