Hello again, fair readers. It is I, Jenny, here to abandon my professionalism so I can tell you about some food I ate. Not all heroes wear capes.
In this edition of Communities Eat, I try amazing Persian food and introduce you to Mohammed Abdollahzahdeh and his restaurant Eyvan Persian Cuisine, located in the food court at Elm Place downtown and currently open for take out.
Again, thank you, I appreciate your acknowledgement of the burden I carry. Okay, right off the top, is it good? Oh, yes, dear readers, it is so good.
Abdollahzadeh, who insists I call him ‘Mo’, offers a pronunciation tip for the name of his restaurant right off the top, “Say ‘A One’,” he says.
So I do, and he claps. And I feel great about myself?
Abdollahzadeh arrived in Canada on the coldest day of the year in January of 2019, opening Eyvan Persian Cuisine in December of 2020, right before the second lockdown. What I call, “the ‘lock-i-est’ of the lockdowns, but this time with less lockdown.”
Previous to that fateful day, he ran an advertising agency in Iran, selling billboard space to local businesses. He was successful, he was building a life, but that doesn’t always much matter to ever-changing governments and guerrilla forces, it would seem. He was forced to flee Iran, with his wife, child and only the clothes on their backs.
He credits his wife for her support throughout, and her work to help them make a life here.
It’s at this point we begin to discuss Persia, saffron and balance.
For me, this moment is when I have to find the balance between asking more of his past and seeing that he has become so emotional discussing his home, so filled with pain, that I shouldn’t.
For him, this moment is when he tells me why he considers himself Persian, not Iranian, and why Persian food is the greatest cuisine in the history of the world.
“Persian people are shy,” he said. “I am not.” And then he laughs with his whole body.
He tells me that he is Persian and does so with conviction.
“I have a king,” he said. “My king is a peaceful one, and my kingdom is 3,000 years old. I am Persian.”
There is so much I want to tell you about this man, his food and his homeland.
First, the food. I won’t go into detail about the lengths he and I went to ensure we were abiding by all safety concerns during my taste test and interview, just because it is boring. (Know that as I saw it, he is exceeding any protocols required.)
First, he set the food on lovely plates so I could take photos, then takeout containers for me. I ate, and I do not mean that word lightly:
Eggplant and yogurt: I did not know how I would feel about this one, to be honest, but I was pleasantly surprised. I love yogurt, but don’t enjoy eggplant unless it is cooked properly.
(Cooked properly includes deep fried and/or with melted cheese. But honestly, I would eat a dish towel under those same two conditions).
But this dish is all about texture, to me. It is a deep and savoury flavour with a smooth, blended, almost paté-like consistency, thick enough to eat off a fork. It is the entire reason the term ‘mouth feel’ was invented. It is a lovely appetizer.
Pomegranate olives: If you love olives, this appetizer is going to give you the same reaction it did me. It is like being punched in the face several times and then running back for more. I mean that in the best possible way. At first, the brining sour of the tender olives hits you, but then, this sweetness appears, balancing the tang.
“Persian food is always about balance,” said Abdollahzadeh. “Every bite is balanced, every dish that is served with another, it is balanced. Hot and cold, not temperature, but what it does to your body, or sour and sweet.”
The sweetness of the pomegranate then gives way to a nutty, savoury flavour, most likely from the walnuts and sumac that make up the rest of the dish. But just as you are resting in the sweetness, you take another bite. The olive appears again, and all I can say is ‘Pow! Right in the kisser.’
Honestly, it’s so good I can’t even speak. All I do is go for another. I took them home and snacked on them all night. I did not make the most appealing noises, let me tell you.
Koobideh (Beef Kebab on the menu) or Joojeh (Chicken Kebab) are both served with the option of rice, which is traditional, or in a wrap, which Abdollahzadeh began offering to suit Canadian tastes. Though not specifically Persian, he also offers shawarma, as it is something he knows this country is already used to.
I tried the Beef and Chicken Kebab and while both Abdollahzadeh and I like the beef best, do not slouch on the chicken. The meat is cooked directly on a stake on an enormous grill used in the restaurant. You can see the flames licking the bits of juice that drip while it cooks.
When he serves it over a bed of rice, the rice becomes almost instantly flavoured by the meat, which is tender and juicy, flavourful without hiding the natural taste of the meat.
I also took one of each of the kebabs home to my husband. He loved both, also proclaimed the beef his favourite despite his usual preference for chicken and then stole my leftovers to make what he called ‘Persian Nachos.’
Barberry Rice: Lightly flavoured by saffron, this rice contains slightly rehydrated bayberries, which taste very similar to cranberries but slightly sweeter and without the feeling that every bit of moisture has been removed from your mouth. It is, again, a lovely marriage of sweet, sour and savoury, with a bed of rice to make the relationship work.
Baklava: Did I also take some of this home and eat it after the olives? Yes, I did. It is made with pistachios and walnuts, wrapped in flaky pastry and drizzled with honey.
At Eyvan, it comes in individual snack-sized pieces so you can eat all of them over the course of the day, but convince yourself you only ate a few. If you have never had baklava made with pistachios, with the flavour they give as well as the texture, it is reason enough to go to Eyvan Persian Cuisine.
As I put together my thoughts after the interview — let it marinate, as I call it — I realised that more than learning the history of the kingdom of Persia, more than an opportunity to try this food that was honestly unlike anything I have had before, certainly never in Sudbury, was the chance to support Abdollahzadeh and his family.
I learned how much it meant, that support, when I asked him about Sudbury and whether he felt welcome here, whether the people of my beloved city were kind to him.
He wept. Just a little, in a ‘Mo’ way.
“Persians are emotional,” he said as he wiped a single tear. He then spoke with a tiny crack in his voice. “I cannot tell you how welcome I feel here. This place, it is my home, the people make me feel like family. I could not ask for better.”
Eyvan is located in the Elm Place Food Court and is available on all major takeout apps. You can visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/eyvan.pc.
Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com. She covers the Black, Indigenous, immigrant and Francophone communities.
Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com