I’m Not Picky, I’m Persian
The story started when I was crowned “The Pickiest Person When It Comes to Food” at work. I never failed to surprise the colleagues I shared the table with in canteen 1 or 20, depending on which day of the week it was, with the amount of food I didn’t eat at each serving. My excuse was, “I don’t like the food here.” They would think I was referring to the food catered at SAP. I wasn’t. The food there was actually two things, healthy and free. Delicious, it was not. Not according to my snobbish taste when it comes to food. You see, there aren’t that many nationalities that can top our dishes. I would easily argue that none actually can. This has led me to fierce debates with my Greek and Italian friends. So I stick to the “what you think you have at its best, we have managed to make it better.” I mean take spaghetti or pasta. All those hours of boiling and (over) cooking not only liberates every flavour, but also allows them to settle into each other surprising our taste buds with what a little more attention can do. And I’m not even going to start with pizza. The thick crust and layers and layers of toppings seated under a creamy coating of cheese has led the Iranian pizza to gain popularity among tourists.
It was early December and I had already started counting down the days to all the meal times where I could sink my teeth into the deliciousness of Persian cuisine, where steaks were cooked enough to melt into your mouth without leaving a taste of blood on your tongue. My friends/co-workers were getting ready for the vacations, a few would be handing in their office keys and packing up for good as their contracts with SAP had ended. Hubert, my Canadian/Chinese friend was one of them. He would sit next to me at lunch, placing his heavy tray next to my equally heavy one and and later clicking his tongue at the amount of food left untouched on my tray. I always let him have a few of my french fries even though they were my favourite part of the meal (usually served on Tuesdays) just to watch his eyes squeeze shut each time he popped a vinegar soaked fry in his mouth. That is a habit I have obtained from the Brits and managed to keep intact. My chips are never served without several splashes of apple vinegar.
I had promised said Canadian and another Northern American colleague, Jared (a Philly native who had in more occasions than one mentioned how he would one day make an Iranian girl his wifey, not only for their brown eyes, but their talents in cooking Persian food. I am not sure who his Iranian friends are back home, but I can conclude with confidence that they have given an impression of Persians that would make any of us proud. hats off to Jared’s Irani friends.) that I would cook for them one day. That day never came as I was not only lazy but had made that promise to more people than my studio apartment could handle. So I made a “suggestion” (the reason the word suggestion always comes with quotation marks- even when orally articulated, it is accompanied with the air quote gesture- is that recently I suggest activities and suddenly I am the mother of all preparations, from the event planning to booking the venue and organizing and ofcourse the pictures which are expected to be up on Photobucket the next day. I don’t like to complain. After all, I do work in Marketing.) to go to a Persian restaurant right before everyone scattered about the globe for the Christmas holidays. I booked my favourite Persian restaurant, decorated with Rumi’s Sama pictures and Hafiz’s poetry. I have taken so many people there on different occasions (best place to go on a first date as it is completely in my comfort zone and I can watch the poor fella struggle with the pronounciation of the lovely Persian dishes) that the manager knows me well enough to come rushing to my table asking if I would take my usual Doogh before I order my food. Thirty people showed up, ten more than the number of seats I had resereved. Tables were pushed together and menus were shared. I made sure the waiter brought us enough spoons, since it’s quite impossible to elegantly eat Persian rice – Polo – with a fork. They seems to enjoy the Kebabs and stews and even the Lavash bread served with mint and cheese as appetizers. Some enjoyed it so much they planned another visit while I was back home for the holidays enjoying the authentic dishes prepared in my mother’s kitchen, eaten with cousins, uncle and aunts around a table garnished with loud laughter. I was happy I had managed to convince them with a legit reason to why I don’t enjoy the food served here in Germany. I am simply used to one of the world’s best.
They say girls learn to cook from their mothers. And here I am 4000 kilometers away from my Maman; not only have I learned how to cook in my little kitchen with the least of facilities, but also how to host guests, entertain them with wine, food and dessert and give them a little doggie bag to take home for tomorrow’s lunnch. Apollo, my Greek neighbour, is my most loyal guest to date. It isn’t an easy task to find Lavash bread in Heidelberg for the tahdig so I have to do with the Pita bread I find on the shelves of REWE. The Basmati rice sticks together and the meat smells funny. I refused to bring the rice cooker my mother had bought for me -not only due to its weight but also my strict belief in the fact that rice must be cooked in a pot without any shortcuts in the procedure and a rice cooker is too much of a shortcut to the lovely process of preparing rice- yet happily accepted the bags of Persian rice, dried herbs, saffron, tumeric, dried lime and cinammon sticks that my parents had neatly packed and labelled. I have a little suitcase that holds the herbs and garlic powder, stored away from everything else to prevent the aroma from blessing my whole kitchen. I managed to give Felix quite a scare once. He was suffering from a headache, and being a non-believer in Asprins and Ibuprofens, I decided to offer him some variation of green tea. I fished out the suitcase and opened it in front of him. The look of his face was not of surprise or confusion. It was of pure fear. “Are you crazy Neelu?” he said stepping back, getting closer to the door. He had to wait for me to get over my set of giggles to explain to him that what he saw come out from under my bed was not my stack of weed and Heroin and Ecstasy pills (I had some cinnamon mint drops too), but the ingredients for stews such as Gheimeh and Ghormeh Sabzi. Stereoptypes, eh? Persian goes home for the holidays and comes back with a stash of drugs…