During my college days, my best buddy Ardi, and I often made chelokabob pilgrimages as our way of therapy for dealing with homesickness. We would get in a car and travel 300 miles to Seattle from Spokane, so that we could eat a chelokabob in an Iranian restaurant.
The trip over was always filled with fun, laughter, positive energy and anticipation. Once we got there, we had to have our fill of bread with feta cheese and sabzi, kashke bademjoon, salad shirazi, chelokabob, maste moosir, dough, chai, and zoolbia/bamiye. Our bellies completely full, we would then get back in the car and drive a torturous and sleepy 4.5 hours back to Spokane.
College days are a distant past, Ardi now lives in a different State and we no longer have a need to drive 4.5 hours to go to an Iranian restaurant. But we separately fly for 33 hours back to Iran on our annual pilgrimages, and there we eat chelokabobs for every day of our visit and manage to double our cholesterol levels. So far, we have not managed to coincide our trips, but we hope to someday soon explore Iran together and get close to its soul.
Although the best thing about all my previous trips to Iran had been seeing relatives and old friends, getting my fill of wonderful Iranian food and specially chelokabaob was a close second. (Shekamoo? Maybe!)
Interestingly, during my first three visits to Iran, I never got a chance to visit a museum or an art gallery but had visited all the best restaurants and had become a chelokabab connoisseur.
This last time though, I went back as a vegetarian. Having been a vegetarian for about six months then, I was confident that I could resist all temptations in Iran, even the chelokabobs! Besides, I figured that I would have an easy time in Iran as a vegetarian, considering that so many Iranian dishes don't use meat. Well, I was wrong!
On the second day of my stay, my hosts gave a party and invited about a dozen family and friends who had come to greet me. It was great to see everyone again and there was definitely no shortage of topics of conversation as we talked about politics, family and friends and living in Iran vs. America. Meantime, my hosts were busy setting the table and covering it with all kinds of food like zereshk polo with chicken and freshly barbequed kabob barg.
As my host declared “Befarmayeed”, and we were about to sit at the dinner table, I politely faced my host and with a low voice stated that everything looked so delicious, but I was a vegetarian, and so I was only going to eat the polo and the side dishes that did not have any meat in them. Suddenly the whole room went silent and I was the target of everyone's shocked and inquisitive stares.
After trying to explain my reasoning for becoming a vegetarian, being that I don't want to take life, my host stated, “Oh Shahrokh joon, you pour thing, no wonder you look like you have become skinny, here eat some meat, being a vegetarian is non sense.” She then placed half of a chicken on my plate along with some rice and other side dishes. Meanwhile someone explained to me that as a vegetarian, it was ok for me to eat chicken and fish.
Well, trying to be polite and not wanting to seem unappreciative, I managed to eat the chicken along with all the side dishes. However, as I was getting near finishing everything on my plate, someone put more food on my plate, while my host in a well-played tag team move was distracting me.
This time it was lamb kabobs and rice. Man, I already had eaten more than I normally would for a whole day! How could I eat all this food now? Well as is the custom in most countries, unless I cleaned up my plate, I was running the chance of insulting my host. So, gradually, I managed to clean my plate.
After dinner was over, they started serving tea and cream puffs. And even-though I was ready to explode at any moment like Mt. Saint Helen, I could never say no to tea and cream puffs!
I was barely done with the last of my cream puffs when someone placed a plate full of fruit in front of me. By this time, I was having a hard time breathing, and there was absolutely no way I could have eaten anything else. So I politely stated that I was about to die, and to please stop serving me more food.
But then a couple of people started to explain how eating fruit would actually help me digest my meal and therefore I should not stop now. Of course, everyone there nodded their heads in agreement and added their encouragement for me to continue eating.
So unable to overcome their persuasions and again wanting to be polite and not to offend anyone, I began eating an apple that the lady on my right had peeled for me while the lady on my left was busy peeling an orange and a cucumber that were meant to follow the apple.
Man, I have always loved eating, but this was crazy. My stomach was about to burst open like in the movie Alien, but I gathered all my will, stepped up to the plate (no pun intended) and actually managed to finish the plate full of fruit.
Unable to speak, my eye balls forced out of their sockets, and barely breathing, I detected my host coming towards me with a bowl of nuts, raisins and candied berries along with another cup of tea.
I would have screamed if I could! But, even then I knew that they wanted to be gracious hosts and share their best with me, and after all, that is a part of our culture that I adore and appreciate.
Sitting on my sofa at my home in Spokane right now, I am going to file that memory in my fond memories file, finish this letter and get back to my cup of tea and cream puffs.