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