Hooweee it has been a while since I last blogged. My apologies to you all. I was wildly ambitious this semester and took on a 21 unit course load. Now that I’ve had a second to catch my breath, I’ve had time to actually think about things other than school, which has resulted in quite a tested-and-true list of food-related interactions I’ve noticed in my beloved Persian community. I hope you enjoy.
1.) “I’m a vegetarian.”
I used to be a vegetarian/vegan for five years, and DEAR LORD this was impossible to explain to my family and family friends. “No meat? Here’s chicken! No chicken, what? But that’s not meat . . . Well, okay, here’s some fish!” It takes a lot of patience, and desire to want to endure the baggage of vegetarianism in a Persian community. Usually the statement “I’m a vegetarian” is followed by the question “how can you possibly live without kabob?” and “what can you possibly eat if you can’t eat meat?”
And for the record, you really can’t live without kabob.
2.) The way saffron is used on the Food Network.
I CRINGE at the way they abuse saffron on the Food Network, as in, it’s scarier than watching the Grudge. Okay, so first of all, saffron is worth more than gold in weight. If you’re coming back from Iran, and you’ve got a questionable amount of saffron on you, it may or may not get confiscated. Or you may go in for questioning. Why? Because a few 1 in x 1 in x 0.5 cm containers of saffron can rack up to thousands of dollars. In which case, authorities will think you’re some kind of black market dealer. Anyways, I digress. You’re supposed to grind up saffron so you increase its surface area. Then, you add warm water to the ground saffron so that you create a saffron “tea.” This way, you get way more flavor and use out of your saffron buck. But holy guacamole, these amateurs on the Food Network just willy nilly throw threads of saffron onto their dishes, as if it’s free. It gives the whole Persian community anxiety attacks, and stress-induced hypertension- not good.
P.s. I don’t really think those guys are amateurs. It’s just . . . saffron, nothing personal.
3.) “No thanks, I don’t feel like having rice.”
“If you don’t eat rice, your hair will fall out.” I had a dear family member say that to me once. I was awfully confused. Imagine being a 5 year old who doesn’t particularly fancy rice at a given moment and contemplating that statement, your thought processes would go something like: “no rice, no hair, your loss.” No good.
4.) “I’ll have salad instead of bread.”
“Vat? No bread?” Oh yeah, be prepared to have your temperature taken after say that statement. Persians will think you’re unwell if you deny bread or they’ll respond with a “how can you possibly live without bread? I would die! Life without bread is not a life worth living.” And all I did was make the mistake of simply wanting a salad.
5.) Others not understanding the concept of taarof.
So it’s not just in Persian culture, but we do this thing where we insist on things that we don’t always mean; this, is called taarof. For example a non-Persian says “oh wow, that’s beautiful watch” to a Persian, and the Persian responds by saying “thank you, it’s all yours!” We don’t really mean that it’s yours for taking, it’s just that we’re trying to show generosity and hospitality by offering the watch to the said individual.
What does this have to do with food? Well say a Persian is eating lunch, and he/she is STARVING and a non-Persian friend comments on how delicious the food looks, more often than not, the Persian will say “oh help yourself!” And then, when the non-Persian, who doesn’t know any better, starts helping him/herself to the food, the Persian is: 1.) Confused 2.) Secretly wanting to cry 3.) Praying to any and all higher beings that his/her friend doesn’t eat the tahdeeg (it’s crispy rice that we all fight for; google it, it’s the greatest thing in the world). Taarof is a very tricky thing. I feel bad for both sides, we’re only just going along with our natural instincts.
There are even times in a retail setting when a Persian will say that an item “ghaabel nadare” as in it “has no worth,” which could also be translated as “free” to a customer, and the customer who can’t believe what good luck he/she has, will walk away without paying. That really wasn’t supposed to happen. The look on the Persian’s face will make you want to tear up, and crack up at the same time. In summary, we’re really just trying to be hospitable, not give away free watches and lunches.
6.) “Oh, that’s your mom’s/dad’s/sister’s/brother’s/cousin twice removed’s food in the fridge.”
There’s this thing with Persians, there is no such a thing as “mom’s food,” or “dad’s special ice cream,” if it’s in the fridge it’s fair game for all. In all honesty, it genuinely confuses us when a certain food belongs to a certain someone in the family, it doesn’t really make sense. We just . . . don’t do that. So, if you bring home some biodynamic heirloom tomato grass fed caprese salad drizzled in white truffle oil from the deepest, darkest black markets of Morocco and you plan on saving it for later, you better hide your goods because someone WILL eat it. Doesn’t matter if you label it, I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work.
7.) “I’m full.”
Ha, yeah, no. The words: full, satiated, satisfied, not hungry does NOT seem to apply to food for Persian people. You may have eaten your weight in saffron rice, eggplant lamb stew, cucumber mint yogurt, and the hosts in charge will still insist : “akheh chizi nakhordi, bishtar bekesh!” Translation: “but you haven’t even eaten anything, serve yourself some more!” Once when visiting family overseas, they filled me up with so much food that I ended up getting sick, really sick. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all about good intentions here. My family thought that I was being all shy and timid by denying food but in reality, I was just having a hard time even talking because I was so full. Some things will never stop being lost in translation.
I know for a fact that I can’t be the only one with funny food experiences that get lost in translation, let’s hear about yours below!