On Saturday night, the Professor treated us to dinner at the ONLY Persian restaurant in Barcelona. Before we moved here, knowing what an international city Barcelona is and knowing how many Middle Eastern immigrants have ended up here over the years, I expected to have no problems finding Persian food or ingredients to make Persian food here. Before I left Miami, I even eschewed all of my father's efforts to stuff my luggage with some dried goods "just in case." Imagine my surprise then when after a month here, I've discovered a gillion Syrian and Lebanese restaurants (sometimes five or six on the same block) and a bunch of small markets run by Pakistanis, Chinese, Korean, and Indian people and NOT A SINGLE PERSIAN PERSON/STORE in sight!
I was starting to get desperate. I missed, or actually CRAVED, the food I grew up with. I was tired of making pasta dishes, couscous dishes and tortillas. I wanted some thick stew served over some steaming basmati rice. I wanted some strong, dark and aromatic tea not the Spanish version of Lipton tea bags. I missed my dad's fresh, thick, homemade yogurt. I was on the verge of calling one of my sisters or my best friend and asking them to make a run to our local Middle Eastern market in Miami and stocking up on the basics to ship to me.
Fortunately, I didn't have to wait three weeks for a box of food to arrive at my door. Instead, the Professor took pity on me and prowled the internet looking for a Persian grocery store or a Persian restaurant. He found a restaurant called, El Rincon Persa (the Persian Corner) read the reviews, mapped out directions on his iPhone and called and made a reservation. I was initially delighted that he found a restaurant but I was also really nervous about going to eat there. I was worried that it wouldn't be authentic and that the food would suck. That it would be one of those places that called itself "Persian" but then served things like hummus or cheesecake on the menu. Don't get me wrong--I love hummus and I love cheesecake. But neither of these things are Persian. I guess I was hoping less for a restaurant experience and more of a dining-in-a- Persian-persons'-home experience.
So on Saturday night, I sucked up my courage and decided to give it a shot. When we walked into the restaurant, I knew it would be everything I hoped it would be. We could smell grilled meats, saffron, cardamom and herbs. The walls were covered with Persian artwork, pottery and miniatures. The music was traditional as well. We had an amazing dinner of cucumber-yogurt dip with fresh, homemade bread, the Professor ordered grilled, saffron chicken with berry flavored rice, and I had an amazing stew of green herbs, dried limes and beans served over basmati rice (both pictured above). We finished the meal with two cups of steaming, Persian tea.
It's weird how homesickness works. How something as simple as food (or in our case the lack of it) can make you want nothing more than to buy a plane ticket home. How putting a spoonful of food into your mouth can evoke such memories and pleasures. I felt this way on Saturday night and so did the Professor who is not Persian and did not grow up eating anything resembling Persian food. I can't explain how overcome with love I was to see my Cuban/Ecuadorean husband put the first forkful of food in his mouth on Saturday night, close his eyes, and smile. After all, we've known each other for eight years now and he's been eating this food for just as long. We were so giddy with happiness that night.
To top off our evening, we were delighted to discover that in addition to a restaurant, El Rincon Persa also sells a variety of imported Persian ingredients. I stocked up on a box of Persian tea, dried limes, dried herbs, rock candy, sour fruit roll ups, and rice. I had to restrain myself (okay actually the Professor had to restrain me) from buying more. Below is a picture of all the things I bought (minus one sour fruit roll up which I ate on the metro on the way home from dinner. I swear I'm addicted to those things!)
Have you ever felt this way about the food you grew up with? What was it? What did you miss and where were you that you couldn't get it?