Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Iran: die verbotene Frucht

A while back I wanted to buy some saffron for a soup recipe I'd been ogling and found a good deal at my local Turkish supermarket. When I got home I noticed it was from Iran and felt an immediate pang of guilt. In the US, there has been an on and off embargo of Persian saffron (I think it's ok again???) and in my mind, it was a no-go and I was a traitor to may nation. But what was I going to do, return the little vial, explaining that as an American I couldn't possibly make my soup with this saffron seeing as how it was tainted with oppression and basically a threat to all of my countryfolk and our entire way of life? Would I have purchased the saffron knowing it was from Iran? Logical or not, right or wrong, I probably wouldn't have bought it and I probably wouldn't buy it again, but seeing as I already had it and returning it didn't seem like a valid option....well, the soup was delicious. I have no such (illogical?) feelings when it comes to patronizing Persian restaurants. Of course, they are owned and staffed primarily by immigrants who, one can guess, are not such big fans of the current regime. And, of course, at least most of the ingredients are locally purchased. Again, I'm not claiming that any of this makes any sense, but... there you have it. Anyway, I was lucky to get a recommendation on where to get a good Persian meal from a Persian-German acquaintance, so off to Hafis we went. Hafis is basically a Persian restaurant trapped in a German restaurant. A few years back, they took over the space from a popular restaurant frequented by theater-goers (the former Hansatheater is nearby) and never really changed the decor. You'll probably eat kebabs or Persian lamb stew, but your table will be overlooked by a portrait of Rosa Luxemburg or some German actor of yore. That said, it's actually a very pretty restaurant and if you want a more stereotypical Persian vibe, you can request a seat in the Orient Lounge (only open after 6 pm), which features low tables and cushions on the floor. In any case, the decor is always secondary in importance to the food and I thought it was quite good, if not life-changing. The menu is really extensive and I'm sure if you ate there often enough, you'd be able to discover Hafis' real strengths. I'm five months pregnant and going through a very cliche pickle phase and refused to be put off by the waiter's warnings that I might find the Persian pickles to be too sour. (Try and find something too sour for me these days, I dare you.) We compromised on the pickles because I also agreed to order mast o khiar (the Iranian version of tzatziki) and flatbread. For the record, they were delicious, though probably not housemade, and I can't imagine that they would be too sour for anyone. The Persian tzatziki came with a big plate of herb sprigs, which is always a good touch (Berlin Vietnamese restaurants: take note). We also split a lamb and eggplant koresh or stew with lime powder and saffon and fessendjan, which is a sort of chicken stew with pomegranate juice and ground walnuts. The fessendjan was very flavorful, but not nearly as good as the version I used to order at my favorite Afghan restaurant in New York. Or at least, not as good as the version that now exists in my mind. The lamb was extremely tender and flavorful, though I had hoped that the lime and saffron would have had a little more punch. Both dishes came with enough rice to feed about four people. I washed everything down with a glass of dugh (sometimes doogh), a thin yogurt flavored with salt and dried mint, similar to ayran. Delicious. I so wanted to have room for dessert, but the portions were generous and I was much, much too full. I could probably have eaten more pickles though.... My biggest complaint about Hafis, is the section on their menu with dishes like turkey steak with creamy mushroom sauce or beef stroganoff. Maybe these are also holdovers from the previous restaurant, but I always wish restaurants would have the courage to stand up and make their delicious food and not kowtow to the local morons. Besides, if you have a hankering for beef stroganoff, I can't imagine Hafis has Berlin's best version. That said, the menu is predominantly Persian food and the few other diners on a late Saturday afternoon were all eating Persian dishes, so this is really nitpicking. Hafis also has a Persian food shop next door. Hafis Alt-Moabit 45-47

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