a typical spice and snacks shop in tehran. i love how ornate it all is. you never see that here.

there's a sweet article on iranian food in the dining out section of the nyt. in part, i find it sweet because something so commonplace as a mother cooking for her kids was deemed interesting enough to write about in the times. i don't think i've ever met one iranian mother who wouldn't do the same.

i was indescribably lucky to be born to a woman who cooked every single day for me and my brothers. my grandmother once told me, exasperated, that ours is the only cuisine that requires the cook to be in the kitchen all day long. that may not be completely true, but i'm willing to bet that only a few other ancient cultures manage to draw out making dinner into a day-long (or sometimes multiple-day-long) ordeal. on top of cooking time, my mom, displaced like so many others, searched high and low around town (or even as far away as l.a.) for the perfect ingredients, ones that could reawaken dormant taste buds that had given up hope of ever meeting with the flavors of the past--of the old world.

i remember feeling an incomparable inferiority to my cousins the first time i went to iran and met them, because there was no way i'd ever be as iranian as they were. and later, i realized that the food i grew up eating wasn't actually the "real thing," but my mother's closest approximation of it--the yogurt my mom made wasn't as sour as the yogurt i tasted at my grandparent's home on the shore of the caspian, and pita bread, the bread i'd eaten for breakfast nearly every day of my life, was nowhere to be found in iran. i also realized that the culture of convenience hasn't spared iran, either, and pre-prepared foods are just as common in kitchens there as they are here. no matter where she was, i saw, the care and time my mom put into making everything for us from scratch was the most authentic part of our meals, something even many iranians didn't have anymore.

i thought of all of the homes of the diaspora i visited during my childhood, with each family's own version of the past set at the table, all slightly different than what we had at home. my mother's obsession with organic produce that led us to hippie coops and natural food stores wasn't caused by any trends or quest for health-foods as much as it was a search for the flavors of her childhood, passed sitting in plum and walnut trees at dusk. for me, my mother's food was always the best (who doesn't feel that way?).


  1. what beautiful and colorful memories samin. thanks!

  2. Also enjoy reading these memories.

    I nominate Mexican to the pantheon of most labor intensive cuisines, as long as it requires grinding nixtamal into tortillas on a metate. Of course, no one's done that for a hundred years... the tortilla machine may have been more transformative than the conquest in the daily lives of Mexican women.

    I wonder why Persian food is so time-consuming without (I think) a comparably tiresome daily staple-processing regime. My impression is that it's what you would call a courtly cuisine, meaning dependent on many servants who are presumably less common than they used to be, but that is not a unique situation.

  3. i am loving reading your blog and felt compelled to comment. i'm also a californian born of foreign parents (indian), with a mother who sounds very similar to yours. she was, and still is, obsessive about the superiority of a home-cooked meal. and fresh vegetables. of course she was right all along, which i only realize more and more as time goes by.