A stranger in London
“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