Regardless of my lack of experience with Persian culture, the events of this Sunday evening transported me to a place I had never been before. This unexpected journey was the brainchild of Shahrzad Jalili and Hossein Dadkha, who are seeking to recapture one of old Iran’s most popular social scenes—the neighborhood café. This evening, the local restaurant Meditrina was transformed into an Iranian cultural relic—a place where people from the local community could meet, unwind with a cup of tea or coffee, and enjoy some Persian soul food. As a newcomer to Persian culture, being thrust into a dizzying array of music, dancing, and language, was a lot to take in.
Check out more photos from the event here!
Initially, I had a moment where the entitled American in me wanted to come out. I spent a few moments wondering why I wasn’t provided with an English translation of the Farsi menu, and why I wasn’t given some kind of access point into the Persian culture. It’s moments like these when it’s of the utmost importance to tell the entitled American within you to shut the hell up and let the cultural onslaught wash over you. Yes, it feels a bit odd to be on the outside of a tightly-knit social group—especially with a language barrier in place—but in a land where I enjoy so much white Mormon male privilege, it was honestly kind of refreshing.
The concept of the Dadkha’s pop-up restaurant was inspired by the city of Tehran circa 1960. Back then, as Hossein explained, cafés were much like pubs in England or the urban coffee shops of modern America. They were more than just places to stop in for a quick bite. They were vibrant community hubs where the Iranian people met and discussed everything from art and literature to politics and current events—and let’s not forget the karaoke machine. “It’s actually something that’s just starting to gain popularity in Iran,” Dadkha says. His mixture of the older cultural idea of community cafés and the modern idea of karaoke completely set the scene for the evening’s menu. And, let’s just get this out of the way right now—yes, I did butcher a rendition of “Hotel California” in an effort to bridge the cultural gap that exists between The Eagles and Viguen Derderian, the king of Persian pop. I scored a seventy-one out of a hundred.
While the karaoke session was winding down, we started to get our food. The first course was a light plate of lavash, herbs and feta cheese. It was a pleasant way to start a meal—the parsley and cilantro cleansed the palate, while the lavash and feta prepped the taste buds for the upcoming courses. The main course consisted of two sandwiches, chosen from the four varieties that they had prepared. I asked our waitress to bring me her two recommendations, and I’m glad she did—they were delicious. The first sandwich that I tried was filled with tomatoes, pickles and mayonnaise, along with a crispy-on-the-outside, savory-on-the-inside patty that had the flavor and texture of falafel. When I asked our host about this, he explained that it was actually called a kotlet, which is a mixture of ground beef and potatoes that is prepared in a similar manner as falafel. When I bit into the second sandwich, the familiar taste of potatoes, mayo and dill filled my mouth, causing me to wonder why I never thought to put Mom’s potato salad on a sandwich before. Sharzhad Jalili told me that this was a Russian-influenced dish called Olivieh Salad. It packs all the comfort of the potato salad that I, along with most of my fellow Utahans, were raised on—plus it’s mixed with chicken and spread on a baguette.
Shahrzad Jalili and Hossein Dadkha are currently prepping their next event, which hopefully contributes to the creation of a Persian restaurant here in Salt Lake.