I recently joined the Destinations Book and Dinner Club in Las Vegas, which combines four of my favorite things — reading memoirs set in other countries, trying new food, dreaming/reminiscing about international travel and talking about all of the above with people with the same interests.
For our February meet-up we read Azadeh Moaveni’s Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran. Then we met for dinner at Habib’s Persian Cuisine.
About the Book: Azadeh Moaveni’s family moves from Iran to northern California to escape the late-1970s Iranian revolution. Growing up in Palo Alto, her family clings to cultural tradition while Azadeh just wants to fit in. After college, she lands a Fulbright scholarship to study Arabic in Egypt for a year. Her time in Egypt leads to a longing to return to Iran. She soon lands a job as a correspondent with Time magazine in Tehran. This is a memoir about her time as an Iranian-American in Tehran during the late 1990s/early 2000s.
My Thoughts on the Book: I’ve previously read 2 other memoirs on Iran (both by Azar Nafisi) — Reading Lolita in Tehran and Things I’ve Been Silent About. Both books have left me thinking that I would have loved to visit the Tehran of the 1950s/1960s, with it’s colorful bazaars, ice cream shops, nearby mountains and cultural/religious diversity. The books also left me hoping that a dissatisfaction with our own government and a desire for change — much like in pre-revolution Iran — never leads the U.S. to become a theocracy.
Early in reading Lipstick Jihad I realized the author’s perspective was much different than Azar Nafisi’s. For one thing, there was the generational gap — Nafisi being around the age of my mother and Moaveni relatively my age. For me, Lipstick Jihad essentially became a Gen-Xer’s perspective on contemporary Iranian culture, and I enjoyed Moaveni’s insights as to why young Iranians are like Americans and how they are not.
Lipstick Jihad demystifies the Iran the United States government and media has taught us to hate. Moaveni reminds us that most Iranians in the U.S. are here because they don’t agree with the government of the Islamic Republic, and that’s why many call themselves Persians. She teaches us that, while many “rights” are a thing to be desired in Iran, Iranian women still enjoy far more freedoms than in U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and Iran is far more of a democracy than U.S. ally Egypt. In Iran, women can work, drive a car and manipulate the rules of dating. Young Iranian women write blogs and are into fashion. Many Iranians aren’t even very religious. For these insights and de-mystification, I enjoyed and appreciated this book.
Now on to dinner at Habib’s Persian Cuisine.
The restaurant and adjacent market are located in a shopping center at Sahara & Decatur in southwest Las Vegas. Habib served as host upon my arrival at the restaurant, enthusiastic waiter to our group of 10 women, and diligent cashier — personally calculating our individual bills at the table at the end of the night.
To start off the night, we were served a plate of assorted breads — made daily in house — and a bowl with a whole onion and radish. Our group leader asked about the onion and Habib instructed it was to cleanse the palate prior to the meal. I’m not much of an onion eater, but I had to try. The bread was excellent.
Habib brought 2 versions of the menu to us. The first contained pictures of their standard menu items — beef, lamb and chicken shish kabobs, shrimp scampi and grilled salmon. The other menu contained prices (most entrees are between $14 – $25) and a list of that evening’s specials. Habib went into great detail on each of that night’s 10 specials — highlighting the special ingredients and health benefits of each dish. My table of 4 was sold: we each ordered one of the specials for our meal.
For starters, we shared hummus and tabouli. For my main dish, I chose the “Zereshk Polo,” a dish Habib sold me on for it’s “powerful antibiotic properties.” Zereshk Polo is a chicken and rice dish cooked with barberries, a fruit high in vitamin C and used as an herbal medicine. According to Habib, “the meal is free,” and he “only charged for the doctor’s visit.” Plus I really like berries, and I’d never ate a barberry before.
I usually prefer dark meat chicken, but the chicken breast served as a shish-kabob was excellent. It was marinated with some kind of herb before being grilled and was quite juicy and flavorful. The barberries had a similar taste to cranberries and pomegranates, and I enjoyed their tartness. The rice was blended with a hint of saffron, and although the grilled tomato may not look pretty on the plate, it was a nice addition to the meal.
For dessert, I tried a Persian ice cream, which was not at all like an American ice cream other than both are served cold. The Persian ice cream was made with vermicelli noodles and soaked in rose water, which gave it a very perfumey smell and taste. An added lime squeezed over the top gave it a sort-of margarita taste, which I enjoyed.
Habib continued to pay diligence to our group throughout the night, and at the end of the evening brought each of us a long-stem red rose. It was an enjoyable evening, a fun and new cultural experience, and great food. This is a restaurant that I’ll definitely come back to.