Posts Tagged ‘Iranian’

For a while now, my literary choices have been focused on the Middle East. I’ve read many books on many subjects relating to Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Recently, I concluded a book called Life As A Visitor by Angella Nazarian.

This book was not just read; it was experienced. Each page gave my eyes the chance to do more than absorb text. The story – of difficulty leaving Iran and acclimating to the U.S. – is told in layers. There is, of course, the story itself. But it’s surrounded by beautifully embellished borders, and interwoven between colorful pages of anecdotes and poems, and bright, telling photographs – many taken by the author herself.

The emotions she expresses are so personal, so relatable, and so pure.It’s not often that I complete a book and think, “I would really like to get to know this author.”

Many stories of leaving Iran are heartbreaking. Abandoning a life that is rewarding and familiar, to find security in an unfamiliar culture is a huge risk. Thank G-d, my family left early enough to avoid the complications, but they still had to endure the challenges of re-acclimating. They still had to leave their home, their property, their comfortable life.

I’m reminded of a moment on my grandparents’ most recent visit to Seattle. My mom turned to my grandmother and told complimented her cooking. “I’m so proud of you,” she said. Proud, why? My grandmother came to America having never cooked before; the family always had full-time help. She had mastered the task of shopping, while Shahin took care of the cooking.

What keeps me coming back for more is the knowledge that after having to leave and readjust, many families did very well for themselves. The Iranian community in the U.S. is one of the most accomplished immigrant groups. They are well educated and influential; they work hard, and have given themselves a good name.

In my eyes, the challenge that lies ahead is for Iranian Jews to integrate better into the larger Jewish community. We are seeing second and third generations in the U.S.; no one should feel like an “other” any longer.


Read Full Post »

I can’t say that I’ve never been envious of Iranian Jews. They know who they are. I, on the other hand, while my parents grew up in Iran, am only sort of Persian.

The only time of year I actually dwell on this identity crisis is when it comes time for Passover. Persian Jews have defined traditions. Traditions they’ve been practicing for years.

I have never beaten anyone with a green onion. I’ve even witnessed a green onion fight.

Anyone who has ever heard of this custom has made a point of asking me about this. But I just sigh and pretend Iraqis have more interesting Seders.

It’s a lie. We don’t. We have very ordinary Seders.

Unless of course the “I just came out of Egypt” reenactment sparks your interest. When the children walk around the table with matzah tied in scarves around their shoulders, and the adults ask them where they came from and where they’re going.

Every time this goes on, I want to duck and hide out of sheer embarrassment. It’s just so silly.

Anyway, props to the Iranian Jews for their strength in numbers and traditions. I came across this article in the New York Times last week. It’s a lovely story of a Persian family (who happen to be distant relatives through marriage) celebrating Passover.

Read Full Post »

I returned home to Seattle from Israel about a month ago. There, I would cook in my nightmare-of-a-kitchen and dream lofty Julie & Julia fantasies. I even had grandiose ideas of cooking and blogging my way through an Iraqi cookbook when I got home.

My family, the Iraqi, and the Persian Jews have been through a lot. They have a rich history, a rich culture, and rich food. I figured the best way to know where I’m going is to find out where I’ve come from. I have never been to the motherlands, but loosely replicating a Hollywood plot was a practical substitution for me.

I wanted to take on this lofty task to better understand who I am. A child of immigrants; a first generation American. All my life I’ve been sort of Persian, sort of Iraqi, sort of Sephardic. I owed it to myself to find out what all of that means.

Other than the fact that I can shimmy when I hear Googoosh, there’s nothing really Persian about me. Likewise, my Arabic is mediocre enough to understand my family and Palestinians, but I’m not an Arab.

It’s too bad I’m on a diet that involves little rice, oil and red meat. So there won’t be any culinary soul searching in this blog. I will, however, still tell you about said cookbook.

Daisy Iny’s book, The Best of Baghdad Cooking, With Treats from Tehran is the first book I can recall from my childhood. As a young girl, one of my favorite activities was crafting snowflakes. I remember rummaging through my grandmother’s kitchen drawer looking for her orange scissors. The orange cover of Iny’s book often tricked me; it was always a disappointment.

I didn’t realize what this book was until later on. In fact, I had never even bothered to actually read the title. The cover has an Asian theme, which led me to assume it was some sort of cryptic astrological forecaster. About five years ago, I realized this was not the case. Daisy Iny’s book was probably the only cookbook my grandmother owned. And, the Iraqi cooking bible.

I’m not joking. On multiple occasions I have witnessed both my mother and my grandmother consult the book mid- khoresht, tebeet, or kibbeh. It still lives in the same drawer, but is no longer the only cookbook in my grandmother’s kitchen. It has a comrade that lives in the drawer to its right, a Mediterranean cookbook that is read like coffee table book; skimmed for beautiful pictures but is never taken seriously.

I haven’t seen her consult Daisy Iny in a while, but when I’m in my grandmother’s kitchen I take it out, scan the names of familiar foods, and smile.

The book went out of print several years ago. My mother doesn’t even own a proper copy, she had my grandmother’s photocopied and bound. The fake book now has traces of baklava on various pages.

Here is one of my favorite pictures of my grandmother and her sister-in-law making kibbeh b’semak early one morning. The entire process took about two days. I’ll be sharing my unique worldview with you here, so I’m hoping this blog will keep your attention for longer than two days. Thanks for reading. And, enjoy.

Read Full Post »