Esfahan is among those rarer places, like Athens or Rome, which are the com­mon re­fresh­ment of hu­man­ity.”

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

is run by an Ira­nian fam­ily of the Baha’i faith, and some Shia Mus­lims shun the place even though the restau­rant does not sell al­co­hol out of re­spect for Iran’s of­fi­cial norms.

Ira­ni­ans in the Chi­nese cap­i­tal in an of­fi­cial or busi­ness ca­pac­ity of­ten pre­fer Perse­po­lis, an eatery on the same block that boasts for­mer Ira­nian em­bassy chefs in its kitchen.

But Perse­po­lis, sen­si­tive to the secular busi­ness model of the en­ter­tain­ment-driven neigh­bor­hood, fea­tures not only an ex­ten­sive al­co­hol menu but nightly belly-danc­ing, and those ladies re­ally know how to shake it.

Since I’mnei­ther Ira­nian nor Mus­lim, I just put my face in my plate­an­den­joy both places.

I’ve been a fan ofRumi Grill since I first tasted its fe­s­en­jen, which was as de­li­cious as the ver­sion I’d tasted in the fa­mous Esfahan called Shahrzad.

That dis­tinc­tively swee­tand­stew, with its un­der­cur­rent of pomegranate, blos­somed in Shahrzad’s aura of stained-glass win­dows, lux­u­ri­ous Qa­jar-style mu­rals and el­e­gant black-suited wait­ers.

I didn’t care as much for the Perse­po­lis ver­sion, which was too tart for my taste and not like the “real” one I had in Esfahan.

Butmy Ira­nian friends here in­sist that both ren­di­tions are per­fectly au­then­tic: Rumi’s leans to the Esfahan palate (sweeter) while Perse­po­lis caters to north­ern Ira­nian tastes (sourer). If this ar­gu­ment sounds familiar, you’ve prob­a­bly been stuck be­tween food­ies from Shang­hai and Bei­jing bickering about whose grub is bet­ter.

So while both restau­rants serve, for ex­am­ple, a fine fresh shi­razi salad of cu­cum­ber,

restau­rant tomato, lemon juice and sumac, the lat­ter herb and its dis­tinc­tive bit­ter­ness is more as­sertive at Perse­po­lis.

More rice dishes with a tart edge from bar­ber­ries and dill will emerge from Perse­po­lis’ kitchen, too, while Rumi’s din­ers seem keener on plat­ters with saf­fron rice. You can guess which restau­rant prob­a­bly has more vine­gar in stock, and which of­fers more desserts.

Both restau­rants of­fer a pleas­ing ar­ray of ke­babs, marinated toa­maz­ing­ten­der­ness in yo­gurt, lemo­nand­spice com­bi­na­tions that are trade se­crets.

Like bread, rice is cen­tral to most plat­ters: bas­mati rice may be sim­mered with diced beef, baby lima beans or a fra­grant mix of fresh dill, pars­ley, cilantro and spices. Zereshk polo is saf­fron rice topped with bar­ber­ries and currants.

The decor of the two restau­rants is even more dif­fer­ent than the kitchen work, but again, both very au­then­tic.

Rumi boasts a more uni­ver­sal look of el­e­gance, with high ceil­ings, off-white walls and sand-colored re­pro­duc­tion an­tiques.

Perse­po­lis, onthe other hand, glo­ries in the vi­brantly colored tiles that might grace the court­yard of Ab­bas the Great.

You don’t re­ally have to de­cide which is bet­ter. But if you want to try, a culi­nary voy­age of dis­cov­ery awaits. Con­tact the writer at michaelpeters@ chi­

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