A week in Iran revelling in Persian food and diving into a culture of lost hope…

Armchair traveller
5 min readFeb 24, 2024


Magical realism, zam zam lemonade, pomegranate 0% beer and a cat. I fear no joy will ever surpass this moment.

I felt a kinship with Iran ever since I found out that my great grandmother lived in Persia back in the 1800s. What she called Persia, the International community now calls Iran, and has done ever since the Reza Shah decreed that the exonym should become the endonym back in 1935 — ironic given that he then embarked on the “Persianisation” of the country! The battle of the names still rages as we still talk of Persian food, culture and language — not Aryan, you may note, even though it means “of the Iranians”. Indeed Hitler so liked Iranians that they weren’t beholden to the Nuremburg Laws. Even Persian Jews did not have to wear the yellow star of David during Nazi times and many escaped Germany for Iran. But I digress — which is not surprising as Iranian history is full of incredible rabbit holes where you could get lost for days… My India armchair travels revealed the Persian conquest of India, and there is much to study about the 1905, the 1963 and of course the hellishly destructive 1979 revolutions. To try to get to grips with that last one, I watched Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi — which is about growing up in and escaping the revolution. It is NOT about the kingdom of Persepolis — the old capital of the Persian kingdom and another huge part of Iranian history. Once more it seems I need to spend more than a week here to understand what’s going on…

OK! Maybe this moment with my Persian brunch. Perhaps the highlight of my life.

I guess I will also never fully understand what’s going on in this week’s magical realist book The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, by Shokoofeh Azar. It’s full of dreams and imagination and truth and crushed hopes; of ghosts, the Ayatollah Khamenei, a mermaid and Zoroastrian fire temples, and of the pain they all suffer at the hands of the unforgiving system Khamenei himself set up. Like Reading Lolita in Tehran, it namechecks 100s of books that it is illegal to read in Iran, making particular mention of Marquez’s 100 years of Solitude, to which it clearly owes a great debt. It’s poetry attacking corruption and the misery brought about by the revolutionary guard’s efforts to rid the land of its vast pre-revolutionary history and its free-thinking population. I would recommend it wholeheartedly.

Gheymeh bademjan — aubergine stew. I’m not shown in the photo as I was crying with joy and my face had gone blotchy.

I would also recommend this week’s film A hero to anyone who likes Ken Loach or any other realist dramatists who like to show the reality of working peoples’ lives being crushed by bureaucracy and misunderstanding. After the trauma of the novel I had searched for something hopeful and thought this film about a man who finds enough money to escape debtors prison, but instead gives it back to the owner, might be the one. For the first 20 minutes it looked like all would be well but then the pendulum swings, and swings and swings. As with Loach, it is a strong, honest, moral story that also breaks your heart. I chose it over other joyous sounding films like A separation following a couple who have to choose whether to improve the life of their child or looks after their parent who has deteriorating Alzheimer’s — in retrospect that may have been more fun.

Cardamon tea — so very, very lovely. Thank you Colbeh.

But the rest of the Iranian experience was joy, pure joy, especially the food. First I headed to Colbeh, a Persian restaurant on Birmingham’s Hagley Road where we ate gheymeh bademjan, a stunning aubergine stew, zeytoon parvadeh, olives mixes with walnuts and pomegranate, and kashke bademjan chelo, a Persian dip also made of aubergine. The food was a joy, but the experience was so much more thanks to the presentation in a traditionally styled restaurant with traditional accoutrements, you must go! If you, like me, are also a sucker for anything Indo-Persian, you must also go to the super fancy Qavali restaurant. It’s crazy expensive unless you go for the Persian Brunch Platter which was a bargain at £25 quid. All vegetarian, but not very vegan and served with a wonderful champagne which didn’t feel very Iranian, but did feel very lavish.

Just some of the bread we scored in the Persian bakery

The other useful thing about Colbeh is that it is next to an incredible Persian supermarket and bakery! We bought bags of bread and tea and, most importantly some Pomegranate alcohol-free beer, which may not sound like it could work, but may well be the bast alcohol-free beer I’ve ever had. I guess the Iranians have had a fair few years to work on it! I also found and drank Zam Zam lemonade which pretty much tasted like lemonade. My bizarrely knowledgeable child explained that it is named after a well in Mecca, so hopefully that will help me out in a general knowledge quiz at some point.

I don’t remember what this was, but I loved it and now fully understand the joy of crispy onion… it changes everything.

And so finally to the music, which I must admit surprised me! This week’s playlist comes in at 20 songs and 1.5 hours but I could have gone on far longer as there is a rich seam of Iranian music, from jazz to punk to traditional to 70s psychedelia. As I listened to it the other day I couldn’t help but muse on what role Iran could be playing on the world stage today had their revolution been more punk than religious. And so I say farewell and head to Iraq where no doubt I’ll end up musing on what would have happened if the Brits and Americans had left well enough alone.



Armchair traveller

Near-zero carbon travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.