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