How Sains­bury’s got into a stew over mash-up of ‘Per­sian’ dish

Mag­a­zine apol­o­gises af­ter Bri­tish-Ira­nian read­ers ac­cuse it of ‘lazy, ca­sual racism’, writes Vanessa Thorpe

The Observer - - News -

A sparkly bon­fire night cake and a tra­di­tional English sausage and mash were both on of­fer in Oc­to­ber’s edi­tion of Sains­bury’s Mag­a­zine. More prom­i­nent than this sea­sonal fare, though, was a bold at­tempt to broaden read­ers’ hori­zons: a front-page photo of a “golden Per­sian curry”, tagged as “the din­ner party dish you HAVE to try”.

But the mag­a­zine’s fu­sion ad­ven­ture has now back­fired. Its ed­i­tors stand ac­cused of “lazy, ca­sual racism” be­cause, ac­cord­ing to Ira­nian read­ers, chefs and fans of Per­sian cook­ery, the in­gre­di­ents bear lit­tle or no re­la­tion to the re­gion’s au­then­tic cui­sine.

The culi­nary con­tro­versy soon spilled on to the pages of the jour­nal’s Twit­ter feed and In­sta­gram ac­count, where ac­cu­sa­tions of sloppy “cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion” abounded, although they have since been taken down by the mag­a­zine. Reader Pooneh Ar­rondelle wrote: “This is NOT a Per­sian recipe. No Per­sian/Ira­nian would ever mix these in­gre­di­ents. You think sprin­kling a few pome­gran­ate seeds on to some­thing makes it Per­sian?”

Bri­tish Ira­nian Banaf­sheh Hay was stirred to write di­rectly to Sains­bury’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Mike Coupe, ask­ing for an apol­ogy, and she re­mains an­gered by the lack of care taken. “To treat Ira­nian and In­dian cuisines as vir­tu­ally in­dis­tin­guish­able, de­spite know­ing they are very dif­fer­ent, in or­der to save their read­ers the ef­fort to learn about a new Ira­nian cui­sine which the mag­a­zine wants to pro­mote on its front cover... smacks of lazy, ca­sual racism,” she told the Ob­server.

The words “Hal­loween hor­ror”, also on the front page, had taken on an aw­ful new mean­ing by the time the ed­i­tor, He­lena Lang, was forced to re­spond. Sains­bury’s “Per­sian curry” was merely “in­spired” by Per­sian cui­sine, she ex­plained to Ar­rondelle in an email. It was based on “two tra­di­tional stews – khoresh and fe­s­en­jan”, Lang added. But the ex­pla­na­tion only served to es­ca­late the row.

Ar­rondelle re­turned to In­sta­gram to point out “khoresh” is not a tra­di­tional Per­sian dish, but merely the Farsi word for “stew”.

To un­der­line her point, the reader posted a sugges­tion: “For your next edi­tion, I’d sug­gest you cel­e­brate Bri­tish food – 350g of beef, cubed, cooked with roast parsnip, boiled cab­bage, dash of baked beans, mix it [sic] a bit of Mar­mite and an Oxo cube, sprin­kle with ba­con bits, rose­mary, sage, roast onions. Serve with a crum­pet and call it a Bri­tish Sun­day roast.”

The row comes in the wake of the res­ig­na­tion of Waitrose Mag­a­zine’s ed­i­tor Wil­liam Sitwell, who up­set his pub­lish­ers last week when news reached them of his “ill-judged joke” about “killing” the grow­ing ranks of ve­gan eaters, “one by one”.

This week­end, Sains­bury’s Mag­a­zine, pub­lished by Seven, has is­sued an apol­ogy for any of­fence caused: “We love de­vel­op­ing ex­cit­ing recipes for Sains­bury’s cus­tomers and our in­spi­ra­tion comes from dif­fer­ent cuisines around the world,” it reads. “We wanted to in­tro­duce Per­sian flavours to read­ers and so we cre­ated a recipe which is in­spired by the tra­di­tional Per­sian dish fe­s­en­jan, fused with an In­dian-style curry.” And not ev­ery­one was dis­ap­pointed by the recipe. Sev­eral read­ers have posted their ap­proval, in­clud­ing Hay­ley Davies, who de­scribed the lamb curry she made as “de­li­cious”. Nev­er­the­less, Farshid Zi­afat, owner of Hafez, one of Lon­don’s old­est Ira­nian restau­rants, is clear no dish re­sem­bling Sains­bury’s stew ex­ists in Iran. “Per­sian cui­sine does not use any com­bi­na­tion of dried spices re­motely like curry pow­der,” he said. “It is not the first time that Sains­bury’s food writ­ers have cre­ated a ‘Per­sian’-themed recipe and poorly re­searched the ap­par­ent ‘in­spi­ra­tion’; any­one with knowl­edge of our cui­sine will spot the glar­ing er­ror in this con­fused mashup,” Zi­afat said.

Sains­bury’s Mag­a­zine has replied: “We re­gret if the ref­er­ence we made to ‘Bri­tish read­ers’ has been mis­un­der­stood. This recipe was de­signed to en­cour­age our read­ers to em­brace a range of flavours from around the world and try new com­bi­na­tions they may not have tried be­fore.”

For Zi­afat, the recipe’s worst crime was its treat­ment of saffron. “In­stead of adding it at the end of cook­ing, you put it in at the start, thereby de­stroy­ing its sub­tle aro­matic flavour by stew­ing it for 90 min­utes! This is the real sac­ri­lege,” he said.

‘This is not a Per­sian recipe. You think sprin­kling a few pome­gran­ate seeds on to some­thing makes it Per­sian?’ Pooneh Ar­rondelle, Sains­bury’s Mag­a­zine reader

Gen­uine Fe­s­en­jan


Sains­bury's fu­sion food LEFTThe of­fend­ing dish as fea­tured on the cover of the Oc­to­ber Sains­bury’s Mag­a­zine.

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