A bite of Iran in Mumbai

Published: 10 November, 2013 08:18 IST | Dhiman Chattopadhyay |

Chef Nasrin Karimi arrived in India from Iran three decades ago for her graduation. Three year's ago she opened Chennai's best-known Iranian restaurant, Shiraz. Next week she will weave culinary magic at Olive Bar & Kitchen during a week-long Iranian food festival. The smiling chef treats DHIMAN CHATTOPADHYAY to a scrumptious meal

Try the eggplant hummus dip, it's delicious,” my host quips. Normally I wouldn’t oblige since eggplant is not my favourite vegetable, but restaurateur AD Singh says it with such conviction, that I give it a shot. Almost immediately I thank him for showing me the path to nirvana. I want this recipe now, I demand.

Ghormey Sabzi, made of lamb and veggies, Jojeh Kebab and  Shirin Polo will be on the menu at the Iranian festival at Olive Bar & Kitchen, starting November 15

We are sitting at Singh’s flagship restaurant, the Olive Bar & Kitchen at Bandra, enjoying a rather early lunch at 10.30 am. But there is a reason for this madness. AD and I are the first two people in Mumbai to sample a meal that promises to bowl over the city’s food lovers next week — an Iranian food fest at Olive presented by chef Nasrin Karimi — the owner of Chennai’s best-known Iranian restaurant Shiraz and perhaps the only truly Iranian restaurant owner in India (she grew up in Iran and only moved to India three decades ago for her college degree).

The food flows as Chef Karimi serves us one dish after another, smiling away and insisting we finish each of the items. We are not complaining, since most of the stuff is good enough to lure a saint from the path of abstinence.

The Shirin Pulo (orange peel pulav with saffron) wins us over with the aroma even before we taste it. The Jojeh Kebab, a boneless charcoal-grilled chicken with mint and basil, melts in the mouth. It’s amazingly soft and has been marinated for hours, as has the Ghormeh Sabzi (R480) — a lamb cooked with fresh herbs (there is a veg variation too).

Olive will host the Iranian food festival from November 15 to 21 and the a la carte menu will be open for dinner on all days. “It will be a short menu but will have enough for those who love their meat and fish as well as for vegetarians,” says Karimi.

We compliment her on what is already the best Iranian meal we’ve had by a mile and that’s saying a lot when one has dined at every surviving Iranian/Persian restaurant in Mumbai. It’s then that Chef Karimi stuns us by admitting that she didn’t know how to cook till she was 30-years-old.

“I moved to India when I was 20, to study Population Sciences at Madras University. That was way back in the early 1980s. When I decided to stay on in India after marrying a fellow Iranian student, we got ourselves business visas and started a stained-glass painting business. It was only in my early 30s that I started cooking, when doctors treating me for bone degeneration told me I had to change my lifestyle of eating out all the time,” she says.

In 2010 she opened Shiraz — a fine dine Iranian restaurant in the heat of Chennai that serves “food as you would get in Iranian homes.” Shiraz incidentally is also the name of her birthplace in Iran.

“All my dishes are free of any preservations or additives. All our meat dishes are mixed with herbs and a lot of vegetables. Iranians also use a lot of fruits to cook, and many of my dishes carry on that tradition,” she tells us as she plates up the Fesejan (R650) — chicken slow-cooked in pomegranate juice with walnuts. The gravy is tangy and a bit sweet and while we love pairing it with the mildly spicy rice, Karimi says some people may not like the taste so much.

But the plum chicken and the Aash (R310, a wholesome soup made with rice, lentils, rajma and peas mixed with herbs) take our breath away. The latter tastes oh-so-Indian, as does the Ghelyehi Mahi (R 510) (fish with an infusion of herbs such as spinach, celery and cilantro). But then India and Iran have enjoyed trade relations for thousands of years, bringing herbs and recipes from one shore to another.

I leave Olive, happily full, promising myself that this is one food fest I would return to when it opens on November 15.

We cannot rate the experience as it was a preview
WHERE: Olive bar & Kitchen, off Carter Road, Khar West
WHEN: November 15-21 for dinner 

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