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Iranian Hospitality

“I can’t hang out with you on Saturday, I have a broom party”

This weekend just gone, Bobby went and celebrated his friend’s groom/ bachelor party while I stayed over my friend’s house. I got the better deal; the groom had a curfew and Bobby caught a fever from another friend. Nassie (friend) and I stayed in, having a non-stop grazing party. We met two years ago in Korean class and bonded over banana chocolate muffins and food talk. She’s a PhD student from Iran and a fabulous cook/host. She graciously welcomed us in after dinner and the eating began; steaming mugs of tea brewed from lemon leaves and dried rose petals;  bowls of tangy pomegranate jewels soaked in sweet rose-water, sprinkled with sugar; and chunky apple cake that I’d baked the night before.

 

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We stayed up until the wee hours talking, painting nails and watching her wedding videos (epic dance party), grazing away. My mother in law packed up a container of kimchi for her and we thought it fitting to attempt kimchi jeon to pair with mak-geo-li. A YouTube clip later and it was frying away in the large pan. Random delicious late night international snacking time: Persian – کله جوش – Kale joosh – soup made from curds, whey, walnuts, garlic, onion and mint; Australian – apple cake; Korean – kimchi pancake 김치전 and seaweed 김; cashew and hazel nuts.

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Tea, fruit and biscuits made of chickpeas were the last memory before sleeping and awaking to yet another feast.

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 Soup served with lime juice to start then two different rice dishes with chicken and salad. Bagheli polo(باقالی پلو) is my new favourite rice dish. Rice is boiled, strained and then mixed with fava beans, dill and turmeric. I found a recipe and highly recommend that you try it. Once the rice was cooked, Nassie placed oil and wraps in the bottom of the pot then piled the rice back on top, creating salty, crispy pitas. Another cup of tea and we headed out for the hairdressers. Filled to bursting point, I was somewhat relieved to be out of the house for a few hours to have a break from eating. Pasta and salad for dinner, more herbal teas and chit-chat. Nassie showed me her alphabet and taught me how to write my name in Persian, it looks so pretty: چانت

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Day three began with mason jars brimming with delicious sweet persimmon milkshakes (squishy persimmon, sugar and milk blended) topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. Bobby came to pick me up and was invited in to eat with us, they wouldn’t take no for an answer. The spinach yoghurt sauce/dip in the bottom right corner of the picture blends magically with the dill rice and is so simple to make, consisting of just three ingredients; yoghurt, wilted spinach and minced garlic. The paisley pattern on top is made from saffron water with a cinnamon lined edge. If you’re in the summer months at the moment, this is very cooling and great with naan. The whole weekend, all the dishes were prepared artistically and aesthetically pleasing. In Iranian culture, to show respect to guests, family and friends, the good cutlery and dishware is set out.

”Nassie, are all Iranians hospitable like this or it’s just you?” “Part of that all Iranian do and partly from my mother, she trained me like that.”

Iranians take immense care of their guests; expect to struggle from being 120% full.  I was trying to figure out if this was just my friend or it was a cultural tendency and came upon this post (*EDIT* For some reason the link won’t go directly to the page, so click on ‘Humour’ in the upper left hand column, then click on ‘Iranian Hospitality’ in the left column under ‘General Humour’) **If you can’t be bothered clicking away, scroll below, I quoted it down there. You’re welcome**

It sums it up perfectly and had me chuckling, nodding away agreeably to numbers 5,6,9&10. One day, when we go back to Australia, I hope I get the opportunity to bestow upon her and her family the same hospitality she has shown to me and Bobby.

Happy eating – Chan and Bob

Iranian hospitality attack
(A survival guide for the non-Iranian traveler)

By Hamid Taghavi
March 20, 1998
The Iranian

Beware! Forget about all the xenophobic, anti-Iranian propaganda dominating the media. What they say about terrorism and your life being in danger in Iran is absolute hogwash (I have no idea what that word means, but I like the sound of it: hogwash…). If anything, all that Iranians can be accused of is excessive hospitality. So, when traveling to Iran, beware of innocent looking situations which could turn into the experience of your life. Kind of like walking into The Twilight Zone.

  1. As you walk the streets, do not talk to or make eye contact with anyone. If you do, they’ll say hello to you and invite you to their homes.
  2. Do not ask anyone for directions, unless you want them to be your tour guide for the length of your stay in Iran. They could be on their way home to eat. They could be due for some important business meeting. They could be a doctor on their way to save a patient’s life. Doesn’t matter where they’re going. It will all have to wait so that they can take you to where you want and give you a complete guided tour even though all you asked for was simple directions.
  3. If someone says hello to you, immediately treat them to lunch. That’s largely a pre-emptive strike. Because if you don’t, then they will. If they invite you to lunch, perhaps you will be lucky and they’ll take you out to eat. Or you may not be so lucky and they may take you home for the food, in which case, forget about the rest of the day. It doesn’t matter if you had plans to see the city or if you have flight out in a couple of hours. You’ll just have to be pampered for the rest of the day at the whim of your hosts hospitality.
  4. If someone takes you to lunch, and the time comes for paying the bill, be ready. You’ll have to grab the bill at whatever cost. Don’t worry about grabbing, scratching, pinching or punching your host/opponent. In fact, you may see people at other tables in what appears to be fighting situations. Don’t be alarmed. Those are simple struggles to pay the bill. It is really a fight to the death. But unlike the Western countries, in Iran whoever pays is considered the winner. After you win, feel proud and walk around with a triumphant grin. You may want to do some trash talk after you win also “What? He says he wants to pay… How dare he thinks he can beat me at this? You think I’m some kind of amateur? Hogwash!” (There is my favorite word again.)
  5. If somehow you’re invited to somebody’s house for what innocently appears to be just some tea and pastry, don’t believe it. You’re in for more, a lot more.
  6. When invited, it doesn’t matter if you’re expected at the house or not. You could walk into any house in Iran, as a complete stranger, with the lady of the house not expecting you, with their food pantry completely empty. It’s all immaterial. Half an hour after your arrival you’re presented with a Herculean volume of incredible food. Don’t even ask how the lady could do so much in so little time. That’s part of being an Iranian woman. Perhaps it’s a magic trick that enables them to wave a wand and have food appear on the table. Or perhaps they can warp time and get 2 day work done in a blink of an eye. Whatever it is, nobody knows how they do it. Even I don’t, and I’m allegedly a so-called Iranian man.
  7. If you end up going to someone’s house, don’t take off your shoes. You may never leave that house with your shoes again. If you refuse to stay peacefully, they’ll hide your shoes. You’ll either put up, or will have to slip out of the house… bare-footed.
  8. If you do end up going to someone’s house, remember that long greetings are the order of the day. You don’t just say “Hi. How are you? I’m fine,” and be done with it. No sir. You have to spend half an hour passing niceties: “Hi! How are you? How’s your mother? How’s your mother’s mother? How’s your parakeet? How’s your left pant leg? How’s your turnip? How’s your spare tire? Is it still flat? Is everything fine at work? How are the interest rates? I’m fine thank you for asking thank you ever so much I’m fine only because of your constant prayers for me if it wasn’t for your mere presence God may not have created me I’m so thankful that you invited me… So, how are you? How’s your mother? How’s your turnip?” And make sure you repeat everything three times because the hosts may not have heard it the first time since they were asking the same questions simultaneously.
  9. If you’re served food, be careful. As your plate empties, your host will keep serving food onto your dish, sometimes without asking you, sometimes despite your objections. Your best bet is to eat slowly, slower than your host. Try to bore your host with your eating pace. Have some defensive moves ready. Like, the minute they try to fill your plate, grab your plate and move it away behind you and swear on your grandmother’s grave you’re so full, you’re about to explode. If you have to, grab the plate, get up and run around the room yelling “no thank you no thank you” keeping the plate away from the hosts at all times. Another tactic maybe to stage a counterattack. As soon as your host’s plate begins to empty, you start serving HIM more food. This way they’ll know they’re dealing with a professional and may back off. Remember, if you’re not really careful, you WILL explode.
  10. After you eat, keep telling them how it was the best food that you ever ate. In return, the hosts will keep apologizing how awful the food was, and that there wasn’t enough variety and they promise you that next time they’ll have a 240 course meal instead of only 85. Do not be intimidated though. Keep bombarding them with complements: “What? What are you talking about? Are you out of your minds? That was simply the best food anyone on the planet could make. That was a kingly feast. That was an unabashed triumphant success beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. That food was delectably heavenly.” You can try even wilder lines and eventually settle for those lines that work best for you.

Finally – If you don’t want to leave, don’t feel compelled to. You may end up staying there for the night, or the next day or two, or the next five years. Who knows. I know a person who went to visit some distant acquaintance in some remote village in Iran, and he’s still staying there enjoying his visit. It has been over twenty five years now. But don’t worry. It’s not like they don’t like having you. You will never be asked to leave. You’ll never hear any complaints from your hosts. Just sit there, enjoy being pampered and don’t worry about a thing for the rest of your natural life. And any time they apologize for not pampering you enough, just remember that word I told you: “Hogwash!”

 
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