I recently found out that I have a lost-long relative that I didn’t know existed. I’d love to say that we reunited on some daytime talk show where I was brought on as a guest to discuss the perks and perils of the blogging world and the audience member who asks me a question turns out to be the person I’m related to. Then after a brief tear-fest we’re whisked away backstage where we’re left to reconnect on a sofa where paternity tests and out of control teens once met their fates. Unfortunately no. In fact, the person I thought I was related to wasn’t even really a person… more than it was just the name of a restaurant.
I was going through my list of restaurants to visit and try when my girl mentioned to me that I’ve never written about Iranian food. The most I’ve come in contact with this cuisine is whatever dishes she’s made, so I can’t say I’m well versed in the world of middle-eastern, Persian specialties. There are only but a handful of restaurants around the city and I’ve been told only a couple are any good, we decided to visit restaurant Château Amoo Jamal – “Uncle Jamal”.
We started with the ash reshte – a thick noodle soup made with lentils and chick peas which ate almost like a stew. I’ve had something similar to this at another Persian restaurant before but not as hearty as this. I can only assume that each family run restaurant has their own recipe, like anything else… except the recipe to crazy, my mother keeps that one a secret. The dish was topped with kashk (whey), fried onions and fried mint oil, a classic preparation and typical garnish of Persian cuisine – rounds out and compliments the flavours of the dish.
We then had the halim bademjan – An eggplant and beef neck stew braised with lentils, rice and mixed with kashk. This dish was more about flavour than it was about the muted texture. Really deep and robust in flavour, the eggplant came out almost floral in each bite – served with bread and mint. Topped with a drizzle of yogurt, fried mint oil and crushed walnuts and fried onions, the dish itself is hearty without the feeling of being heavy – I would attribute this to the eggplant providing the dish the airy fluffiness and body.
I’ve noticed this a while ago; and not that I’m complaining (far from it) but sandwiches are just as much a part of Persian cuisine as rice is in Chinese. So when you can order a sandwich as a part of your meal, that’s a type of cuisine I can get dirty with. We had the zaban sandwich – a braised beef tongue sandwich with mayo, tomatoes, pickles in a warm crusty and chewy roll. The tongue was tender and it was a solid sandwich; what more can you ask for? Maybe an earthy mushroom sauce basted into the meat or something? Hey, it’s got that too!
We also split the tahchin morgh va bademjan. If you know me, then you’d know I’m a big fan of cake. I’m also a big fan of rice. I also tend to love “rice cake” (a la korean tteokbokki), but never have I ever seen a rice made into the shape of a cake with a savoury filling. Uncle Jamal is known for this dish and it’s said that no one else in the city makes it. Rice cooked in turmeric and saffron is left sitting in a pan to crisp up and is turned over on itself to create an awesome crispy crust that buttresses a filling of sautéed chicken and eggplant.
Topped with dried barberries, pistachio and almond slices, this dish is substantial and demands to be shared… or eaten like cake by a fat man on a diet – must.eat.all. The rice is aromatic in itself and is undoubtably filling with the inclusion of chicken and eggplant. The sweetness and subtle sharp tartness of the berries contrast the monotonous mouthfuls of fluffy compact rice.
So you’d think meeting Uncle Jamal for the first time, I’d be greeted with some heartfelt reunion giveaway or holiday package… Alas, a name is just a name, unlike Jamie Oliver’s kids who are actually named, Buddy Bear Maurice, and Petal Blossom Rainbow. Persian cuisine isn’t very well known in our parts, amongst the hoards of trendy market restaurants, BBQ joints and fou fou French spots. For the most part, the places who are doing it, are doing it well and representing this cuisine with honest home cooking and hospitality.