Are you ready for Yalda? Overshadowed by other December celebrations, Yalda is the Iranian festival marking the start of the winter solstice. Celebration means food and a good way to kick-off this festive period is to visit Cazba, one of the best Persian restaurants outside Iran. In fact, some Iranians even say the food is better there than in their home country.
A feast at Cazba starts with some pita bread and raw onions. While it may not seem appealing at first, it is very common in many Middle Eastern and Asian countries to serve them at the beginning of a meal to clean your palate. It is also believed to enhance flavours and, while at it, may help prevent colds this winter. You may want to save some to enjoy with your meat later on during the meal. The generic garlic rule applies here too: if you eat raw onions make sure everyone around the table has some.
Excellent starters to follow those raw onions would be a warm creamy deep fried eggplant dip called kashkeh bademjoon and the Tahdeeg with Gheymeh stew, which includes beef, tomatoes, lentils, onion and lemon. A pure delight! Tahdeeg (also spelled Tahdig) is the crispy rice, potato or bread at the very bottom of the pot when cooking a rice dish. Conveniently, “tahdeeg” comes from a Persian word meaning “bottom of the pot.” Its crispiness and soaked-in flavor make it the best part of the dish; it is a similar pleasure to licking the spoon once mom is done icing the cake. At Cazba, Tahdeeg is made of crispy lavash (flat bread).
Meat lovers will want to have a taste of their very tender grilled beef (barg) and chicken (Joojeh) kebobs. Chelo kabob – consisting of meat skewers and basmati or Persian rice – is the national dish of Iran. Feel free to order a mix of proteins and cuts on a platter or skewers separately. Koobideh is made of twice minced beef or lamb and onions to then be grilled on a flat metal skewer. Cazba only uses ground AAA Alberta beef to make the perfect tender and juicy kebab.
Make sure you sprinkle sumac over your proteins and rice. Almost unknown in the Western world, sumac is an important component of Lebanese and Iranian dishes. Its tart and fruity flavour add acidity to food, similar to lemon in the Mediterranean cuisine.
Another meaty dish you will not want to miss is the Baghali polo (slow-cooked lamb shank) served with basmati rice, dill and fava beans. The meat falls off the bone as soon as you lay your eyes (and fork!) on it and melts in your mouth. This Iranian favourite quickly became mine. You can finish off your feast with the appetizing and exotic Fesenjoon stew made of pomegranate, walnut and chicken or the Ghormeh Sabzi stew for a hearty meal of herbs, red kidney beans and beef. You’ve got it by now – most dishes are not vegetarian or vegan friendly but very tasty to carnivores.
One thing to remember when ordering at Cazba is that most mains come with a generous portion of steamed, saffroned basmati rice and a grilled tomato. For one dollar extra, you can ask for a half portion of rice and a half portion of salad. Traditionally, people used to add natural butter to the hot rice before eating making it silky but this is not a necessary addition. Same for the raw egg that used to be cracked on top of the rice which is now a dying practice for food safety reasons.
For a surprising drink, try Doogh, a cooling yogurt based beverage perfect for Iran’s hot summer days. It is a thick drink to which salt and dried herbs are added. It is sometimes carbonated, too. For a warming touch to end your meal nicely (especially if you have eaten too much), order Persian black tea served to you in a clear and fancy cup.
Prices are very reasonable and you will fill up your stomach before you could empty your wallet. You can enjoy Cazba’s food at its North Vancouver or Davie locations. If you are in a hurry, Cazba Express, a trailer located at Robson and Granville, serves great kebobs and Persian food to go.
Iranians have developed a very aromatic cuisine where saffron, mint, tomatoes, onions, olive oil and lemon mix nicely together to create tasty and heart-warming dishes. Yalda is a good excuse to share Persian food and celebrate the longest night of the year with friends and family.
More about Yalda to chew on
On the longest night of the year, Dec. 21 this year, Persians gather in lofty homes to celebrate and eat dried fruit and nuts as well as pomegranates and melon. It is also believed that Mithra, Persian angel of light and truth, was born on this night.
Address: 132 W 16 Street, North Vancouver
Address: 1103 Davie Street, Vancouver
Location: Robson & Granville