A stranger in Lon­don

Woman & Home - - Happy Memories -

“On Box­ing Day I al­ways pre­pare an Ira­nian feast”

Atoosa Sepehr, 41, is a cook­ery writer and pho­tog­ra­pher. Her new book, From a Per­sian Kitchen, is out now. She lives in Lon­don with her part­ner Brian.

the lights, the happy peo­ple rush­ing around, the fes­tive en­ergy: Christ­mas in lon­don was ex­actly what I thought it would be like. I’d moved from Iran in early De­cem­ber 2007, but as ex­cited as I was, the joy­ful­ness all around me was the op­po­site of how I was ac­tu­ally feel­ing. I had just es­caped from tehran, where I’d been trapped in an un­happy mar­riage, and I was strug­gling to cope.

In Iran, di­vorce reg­u­la­tions tend to favour the man, whose per­mis­sion a wo­man also needs to get a pass­port. scared and fear­ful that my hus­band might have me banned from leav­ing the coun­try, I de­cided to leave with­out his per­mis­sion. luck­ily, the com­pany I worked for had an of­fice in lon­don and of­fered me a trans­fer. My par­ents drove me to the air­port be­fore my hus­band dis­cov­ered my plans.

Re­lo­cat­ing was a mas­sive cul­tural shock – and it be­ing Christ­mas didn’t make it any eas­ier. there were some very tough mo­ments when I felt so lonely. My grand­mother had re­cently died, too, and I hadn’t re­ally had time to say good­bye. yet lon­don felt like home from the mo­ment I ar­rived. I knew that if I could sur­vive the ini­tial pe­riod and re­fine my lan­guage skills, I’d find my feet.

on Christ­mas Day it­self, I found my­self com­pletely alone in a city that had fallen silent. I didn’t have many friends at this point, and the ones that I did have had trav­elled home to cel­e­brate with their fam­i­lies. so I stayed in for the whole day, watch­ing tV to give my flat some back­ground noise.

In the af­ter­noon, to cheer my­self up, I de­cided to make one of my mum’s spe­cial recipes – a dish of tiny meat­balls, which is tra­di­tional to shi­raz, the city that I was born in. then I called my mother. Her voice made me feel bet­ter in­stantly. Eleven years on, and Christ­mas has taken on a new mean­ing for me. I met my part­ner brian in 2012, just be­fore I be­came a bri­tish cit­i­zen, and now Christ­mas has be­come my main cel­e­bra­tion. I get so ex­cited just think­ing about it. Dress­ing the tree the week be­fore Christ­mas is our favourite rit­ual. We also host a party for friends and fam­ily in midDe­cem­ber. then on box­ing Day I pre­pare an Ira­nian feast of slow­cooked lamb with Per­sian rice and ash-e Reshteh, a kind of soup.

the won­der­ful thing about Christ­mas is that it rep­re­sents an op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple from all kinds of back­grounds to come to­gether and cel­e­brate fam­ily, com­mu­nity and friend­ships. and, re­ally, what could be more mag­i­cal than that?

✢ From a Per­sian Kitchen: au­then­tic Recipes and Fab­u­lous Flavours from Iran by Atoosa Sepehr (Lit­tle Brown, £26), is out now.

Christ­mas is now one of Atoosa’s favourite times of the year

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