Among all the rubble, shelling and beards, the Middle East does conjure up some compelling culinary delights. I first learnt this while working on a Moshav in the Golan Heights of Israel when I was given the task of slicing tomatoes and cucumbers while the sweaty Arabs harvested maize and weeded the plum orchards whilst plotting how to slit the Jews’ throats later on between evening prayer and a Hookah pipe.
Countries like Israel, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria (what’s left of it) and Iran grow fantastic vegetables and really know how to use their spices. And they have been at it for centuries, as what has one to do between wars other than comb camels, execute by stoning that little prick who deflowered your daughter and cook-up a storm.
I love those little bowls of Middle Eastern starters. Olives and garlic and pastes which you mop-up with flatbread. Little meatballs, spicy, and vine-leaves stuffed with flavoured rice. Lemon, garlic, chilli and all that good stuff.
It doesn’t get more Middle Eastern than Iran, or Persia as it was known in the romantic years when you could hold a woman’s hand without getting your own one lopped off with a rhino-handled dagger and fed to a Saluki named Faizel. Feeling adventurous, thus, I hot-footed it to the Persian Restaurant which opened in the Gardens at the end of last year, tucked-away in that little side-street between DaVinci’s and Asoka.
The Persian Restaurant looks, well Persian in a cheap sort of way. There are couch-like sofas at the tables and a few ubiquitous carpets hang from the walls. Hookah pipes abound, as do unopened bottles of red wine standing on the empty tables. Shiraz wine, only, because as we know the Shiraz grape originates from Persia, or Iran.
A bunch of us including many kids sat down and were eagerly attended to a graceful woman of Iranian origin, of that I am sure. Iran is the nose-job capital of the world – 200 000 operations a year, according to the Spectator – and this chick was donning a beaut of a schnozz which was just too good to be natural.
Juices such as watermelon were ordered and my Springfield Special Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc 2013 was opened without a hassle.
I announced to the Nosed One that we were going local, and by this I did not mean the burning of Israeli flags or imbibing freshly pressed camel milk. No, just bring us a table of starter goodies reflecting Persian cuisine.
Besides going big on nose-jobs, the Iranians seem to be keen dieters, too. I had expected a tray laden with garlicky, meaty, hummussy, oily goodies and mounds of flatbread. Instead, a few small saucers of delicately arranged canapé-like thingies appeared.
Bourani spinach (spinach with yoghurt, garlic and mint), Mast O Khiar (herby yoghurt with cucumber), Pamador Khoresh (chopped tomato with garlic basil and egg) and Nan Paneer Sabzi (flatbread with feta, basil, radish, chives.) It was all fresh and tasty, but the portions were awfully small. I’d have thought one would need a good plate of food before being sent on suicide bombing mission in a crowded market. But then again, perhaps you want to look trim for those 40 virgins awaiting you in the after-life.
The Pamador Khoresh was, however, extremely satisfying in texture and taste, and in future this will be my starter of choice.
Just as we finished the starters, which took about 90 seconds, music started up and we were subjected to the reason for the small portions.
Miss Persian Belly Dancer made her appearance, and with a body like that I knew exactly where the bulk of the restaurant’s food was going. It was not a pleasant sight.
The woman had a stomach resembling a wobbly GM-modified watermelon and her pale, fleshy arms the size of rugby-player calves quivered as she tried to generate a seductive atmosphere. Her thunderous thighs the colour of camel puke quivered and strained as she pranced around the venue bending and leading and lunging, leaving little droplets of oily warm sweat in her wake.
And should she find you looking at her, Miss Persia would employ some technique to get her cantaloupe-sized breasts to stand-up straight while donning a “come hither” look.
Even if this was an Arab joint, Jesus wept. Fortunately the music stopped before I found a kebab spike to insert in one of her…..well, never mind.
Main courses were kebabs of lamb fillet, beef fillet and chicken. They were served with delicious fluffy rice – twice cooked – and a forlorn looking grilled tomato. The meat was tender, well-prepared and tasty and almost succeeded in plugging the hole left by the mingy starter. But then again, after the trauma of the belly dancer our appetites were about as keen as a neutered Dachshund in a poodle parlour.
Two of the party ventured in the direction of the stews, both having that old standard Abghoosht (DIZI) of lamb, tomato, potato, beans and peas. Tasty and correctly seasoned, but also on the meagre side.
The rest of the menu comprises rice dishes and vegetarian stews, wraps, Persian sushi – whatever that may be – and sweets such as halva and rice-pudding.
An experience, that’s for sure. I’ll invade Persia again just to be able to write about it.
Enjoyed this article?
Subscribe and never miss a post again.